"Why do we sleep? Because we get sleepy."
August 4, 2014 6:44 AM   Subscribe

I need 8 or more hours of sleep a night, and some people need 6 or less, and I'm having a hard time dealing with the fundamental unfairness of this, and the fact that it seems like they have a huge advantage in life. I need insight from other people: emotional, practical, or scientific.

One thing I've figured out over the past few years is that I really need 8 hours of sleep a night. If I don't get it, I feel very tired; after a few days I start to have trouble focusing and thinking as well as I normally can; after a few weeks, it really starts to wreak havoc on my mental health.

I'm relatively young, and I've been on the "high-achiever" track for most of my life ("elite" school, competitive jobs, high expectations). In the environments I've been in, there's a lot of not sleeping. It's sort of a pride/toughness thing -- even though people are gradually becoming aware that it really can mess you up. The thing I've noticed though, is that there are people who cover up their tiredness with stimulants, and there are people who actually just don't need much sleep.

This (paywall) is the study that got me thinking about all of this. Of course it's not conclusive, but I think there's a preponderance of biological evidence that some people actually don't need as much sleep as I do -- not just that they're better at hiding their impairment. And this is really distressing to me.

For one thing, when I'm around these people it always feels like they're just beating me, especially in the morning. They're thinking and moving faster and better than I can. Then there's other things, e.g. executives specifically and more generally other people at the top of their chosen professions tend not to sleep much. And, looking beyond the whole career thing, it seems like at my age socializing, having fun, and meeting people happens late at night. Going to bed at 10 is seen as almost a character defect (more than once I've seen people apologize for it).

And I actually did a little math: if someone else needs 6 hours of sleep a night and I need 8, over 60 years they're going to get 5 extra years of actually living while I'm unconscious in a bed.

I am really mad about this -- I'm actually a little confused by how angry I am. It just seems like such a stupid limitation to have, and a stupid reason to be less useful than other people.

I'm interested in anything any MeFite might have to say on this topic -- how to come to terms with this, but also practical advice for getting enough sleep in a fast-paced environment, and maybe even biological background info.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (41 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
It seems really weird to focus on this one thing. Presumably many people are smarter than you. Or stronger. Or were born rich. You have some advantages, and you don't have others. Maybe you've got a longer life expectancy than some of these people who don't need to sleep as much and you'll actually end up living five or ten years longer.

Try to let this go, is what I'm saying.
posted by mskyle at 6:50 AM on August 4, 2014 [22 favorites]

There's always someone who has more than you, and always someone who has less.
posted by valeries at 6:52 AM on August 4, 2014 [12 favorites]

There was just a HuffPo article on this. From the article:
"The effects of sleep loss on cognitive processing, concentration and memory are striking and acute. Processing speed deteriorates dramatically with shortened sleep duration, and you can't simply 'catch up' on the weekends.”
If it's any consolation, I can't think straight without at least seven hours, preferably eight. Sleep just seems to set my head straight and my demeanor is more collected and at ease for the day. The difference is dramatic.

And a datapoint: My 99-year-old grandmother sleeps about 11 hours a day and has for the past 45 years. She's the sharpest, shrewdest person I know -- seriously, nothing gets by her.
posted by mochapickle at 6:53 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Some people have cancer. Some are paralyzed from the neck down. Some lost both their parents when they were 10. We are not in Harrison Bergeron. Try to be grateful for all that you have.
posted by amro at 6:54 AM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

I need to sleep 9-10 hours! So I'm jealous of you!
posted by misspony at 6:55 AM on August 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

Basically: if needing a normal, average amount of sleep is the most important thing that's holding you back in life, you're doing all right.
posted by mskyle at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2014 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you are focused on the amount of "available time" they have. They have a two whole extra hours more in which to do things than you do, you're feeling.

But - who says they are doing anything with their "extra" time?

I've had similar conversations with people about intelligence and IQ scores; IQ is just a measure of potential, I say. It's like the size of a pitcher; people with a higher IQ just have a bigger size pitcher. But - the size of a pitcher is only part of the equation; what people put into the pitcher is the other part. And people are gonna be way more excited about a pint-size pitcher of sangria than they are about a gallon-size pitcher of rancid Strawberry Yoo-hoo.

In other words - the amount of time available to you is only part of the equation. What you DO with that time is the other part. You can't do anything about the fact that you need 8 hours of sleep - but what you CAN do is make sure that the 16 hours of waking time you do get are well-spent. Because hey, some of those people who only need six hours of sleep may not be filling those "extra" two hours with anything more ambitious than watching The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills, and while they're doing that you're gonna be doing awesome kickass stuff and you're still gonna come out ahead of them, and be better-rested on top of it.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2014 [11 favorites]

You're judging your lived experience by your perceived lived experiences of others.

Some of those people are almost certainly using an unhealthy aid to help them. Given uppers are still a thing in certain circles and the rates of drug addiction, you know probably at least 5 people for whom this is the case even if you don't know that it's the case. And others are probably sneaking in half an hour snooze fests here and there when they can.

The best thing to do is to do what you need to be the healthiest you. Life isn't a race. And if it is, why would you want to win at dying fist?
posted by zizzle at 6:56 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your brain is still DOING THINGS when you're asleep, you know. Just because you're not conscious doesn't mean it's not working away. Have you never had the experience of going to sleep thinking about a problem and waking up with an idea to solve it?
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:57 AM on August 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

College roommate only needed about 5 hours of sleep a night. She spent the extra time watching episodes of the west wing and eating 3am pizza.

I need about 8-9 hours to be healthy and happy.

You've gotta play with the cards you're dealt. Needing average sleeping hours is really not that bad a life.
posted by phunniemee at 7:04 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

It seems like the envy and anxiety are the problems here, and the sleep issue is just a proxy. (Because honestly, this is a very unusual worry.) Are you ill-at-ease in your current job in some way? Are you able to see friends? Are you able to date? What is your relationship with failure? (Because someday you're going to fail - you're going to get fired, you're going to get really sick, you're going to have a bad break-up, you're going to fuck up a big work project, etc. Everyone fails.)

How realistic is your knowledge of the lives of these super-executives who don't sleep, who excel, etc? I do not have a fancy career and am very uncompetitive, so I don't know any of these people, but I find myself a little bit skeptical that they are just, like, super-robots who don't sleep and have close relationships, hobbies, happy families, etc while also not relying on an army of underpaid and exploited cleaners, nannies and so on, and while also not being, like, CEO of Pension-Raiding City-Destroyers Incorporated. And even if they have, like, the year of being a super-robot, I suspect that in general people can't sustain that for a lifetime.

This question feels to me like you've set up an unrealistic ideal in your head based on a self-punishing image of a "perfect" person. (To me, the "perfect" executive who is like a machine for achievement is...so far from perfect that it's hard for me to really get this, but I accept that it's meaningful for you.)

How are you in terms of access to your own emotions? Do you feel fear and sadness and recover from them? Very often when we set up these kinds of "ideal" figures, they serve as ways to punish ourselves and freeze ourselves into a kind of "obedience" because feelings/choices/confusion are all scary.
posted by Frowner at 7:07 AM on August 4, 2014 [14 favorites]

I have a couple friends who are natural early risers, up at dawn. Me, I tend to need to need about 8 hours, like you, but I kind of love mornings and would love an extra hour or two in my day to slowly wake up and greet the day. I hate scrambling to get in to work.

It changes in the winter when there's so little light. Light has a huge effect on my sleep cycle. I want to experiment more with sun lamps, timers, and regular schedules to see if I can manipulate my sleep cycle a bit in the winter - so that my spring-and-summer 7am wakeup time doesn't feel like I'm prying myself out of bed just because it's dark out.

So you might want to look in to stuff like that to see if it works for you. Trying to make huge changes is probably a doomed mission, but small tweaks may be possible.
posted by entropone at 7:16 AM on August 4, 2014

I agree, this seems like an awfully strange thing to be anxious about. You presumably have led a life with a number of privileges ("elite school, competitive jobs"), and needing a normal amount of sleep is not exactly a handicap. Is this the first time you have run into a situation in which you are not the one in the position of privilege? I could see how that would be upsetting, if one is not accustomed to it.
posted by Willie0248 at 7:20 AM on August 4, 2014

I agree with the other posters that your perceptions of how good other people have it may be exaggerated, and concentrating on your resentment of their perceived advantages is going to harm you more than help.

That said, have you ever considered lucid dreaming?

It sounds like you (understandably) consider sleep as wasted time. But sleep doesn't have to be something you put up with every night simply to get to the next day, like being stuck in mental traffic. You can use your dreams to get in touch with your own creativity, to provide keys to greater self-awareness, and to experience adventures in which you are Batman. As a high-achiever, you may also enjoy the challenge of lucidity - it's tricky, but can be tremendously fun and rewarding.
posted by prewar lemonade at 7:22 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's a weird thing that happens when you and your friends get a little bit older and you find that for some people, they desperately want to sleep more but can't, not because of time constraints but because when they go to bed, they don't sleep. I can sleep a lot but the sleep I get isn't restful sleep so I'm usually tired even when I've gotten enough sleep. I could sleep for 10 hours and need a nap a few hours later. I briefly felt really sad about that. I was already depressed and I remember when I started realizing I had a sleep problem, it was a sunny day and I was napping in my bed next to a window that faces the street. I could hear people laughing and having fun and I definitely thought, semi-seriously, what is the point of living if I'm too tired to actually live?

A thing that I've learned to say to myself that helps me is, my health is not my fault but it is my responsibility. I like that expression because needing a lot of sleep or needing to work out or avoid certain foods to stay healthy makes me feel a little like I don't have control over my life but that statement reminds me that some things are out of my control but some things are in my control. It's not my fault that I'm near-sighted but getting contacts and regular eye exams is my responsibility.

Eventually, you find out that other people have similar conditions that are not their fault but are their responsibility. Some are serious things like cancer, others are less serious like being lactose-intolerant. My husband can eat ice cream all day and not gain weight. If I walk past the freezer section at the grocery store, I gain 5 lbs. I could shake my fist at the sky and curse my genetics and be angry at my husband for being able to eat whatever he wants, or I could learn to dress in a way that flatters my size and figure, work out regularly but not constantly, and enjoy delicious things in moderation.

I have a hard time not comparing myself to others but it's gotten easier for me as I've gotten older because you learn that all of your friends are dealing with something and you begin to realize that everyone must be dealing with something, even if you can't see it. Enjoy the things you have, work on the things you can work on, and adjust to the things you can't change.
posted by kat518 at 7:24 AM on August 4, 2014 [5 favorites]

I feel you. I generally need about seven and a half hours, and sleep deprivation makes me miserable, gets me sick easily, and turns me into an extra from Idiocracy (one time, running on fumes, I started panicking because I couldn't find our car - turns out I was sitting in it). I don't resent people who need significantly less sleep than I do, but I do envy them, and it's frustrating to know that it's not something you can really hack or tweak.

Some of it will be solved by time. You're young, and if you're comparing yourself to people in their twenties, you're going to see a lot of people taking crap care of themselves and getting by. All-nighters, drugs, going to work hung over, shitty eating habits, as well as non-physical things like spending too much money on entertainment and clothes or having high-drama friendships - all of these things are way easier to handle when you're young, and most of the people who are currently in high gear will wear out, if not burn out, in the next five to ten years. You have a huge advantage in knowing how to take care of yourself.

Besides, most of the busy non-sleeping people are not really doing things that are that useful. They're partying, or they're spending hours in pointless meetings, or whatever. I don't know what industry you're in, but most of them are filled with bullshit, especially the competitive high-powered ones. The thing that distresses me significantly more than my need for rest is that many jobs encourage you - if not outright expect you to - work fifty, sixty, eighty-hour weeks. Hooray for the executives who can pull that off, but it's horribly unfair to anyone who has physical limitations, a family, or other outside obligations. Many of these people are as brilliant and hardworking as the people with the high-power jobs, but we often only look at the time put in. Staying busy all the time is unhealthy and inefficient, and competition beyond a certain point is exploitative. You need to prioritize your health and your time, because everyone else who wants it doesn't care.

So continue to take care of yourself and focus on the long game. And if you must get mad, get mad at the system and not yourself. No one should be penalized or put at a disadvantage for needing a normal amount of sleep.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:29 AM on August 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I kind of go back and forth, but at the moment most nights I'm running on about 5-6 hours a night. And I am definitely not making any better use of my time than you are. I just sleep less. I have a lot of trouble staying asleep any longer than that, but that doesn't mean that I don't find sleep pleasurable and that I wouldn't like to do so in more of a "normal" fashion. So, the bulk of people who sleep less just sleep less, they don't necessarily get more done. A few might get more done. In which case... okay? So? You are not the absolute best in the world at being productive and you were never going to be the top person in the world at being productive even if you were a short sleeper. You are also never going to be an astronaut or a movie star. Stephen Hawking is smarter than you. A few people really do have the lifestyle you covet; a lot more also covet that lifestyle and may have reason to pretend to be doing great at it even when they aren't.

Like--when I was in law school, I knew people who thought that it was totally normal for your morning coffee to be sufficient in quantity to give you heart palpitations. I knew a bunch of people who acted like they were being so much more focused and productive than the rest of us and they were able to do so because their wives (or in some cases even parents) were handling all their meals and laundry and expecting zero household contribution. I was competing in moot court once when the rest of my team went out for drinks the night before and I stayed in with the massive hotel bathtub and a bubble bath and a few glasses of wine. I felt like a loser for not being up to the bar crawl. By the next day, I felt amazing and my roommate was running on coffee and ibuprofen and nerves. Doing the right thing for you works way better than doing the thing everybody else is doing that you THINK is working for them.
posted by Sequence at 7:32 AM on August 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

The number of people who legitimately have this ability is really small, it's drastically overbalanced by people who act as though they do fine on six hours. So instead of feeling bad about not being in the lucky super-minority, you should feel lucky to be one of the people who realize that getting more sleep can seriously improve quality of life.

I can operate pretty well for long periods of time on 7 hours of sleep; however, life is just much, much nicer in many dimensions when I get 8 or 8.5 hours. You seem to realize that as well. So you've got something over on the many people who are spending their life chronically fatigued (ignoring the many people who feel forced by circumstance to live that way).
posted by skewed at 7:41 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I recommend gloating a bit about how much smarter you are than the chumps who think they don't need sleep, yet really do. Being as alert as a "normal" human is a secret weapon!
posted by yarntheory at 7:41 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Ha, I get this; my partner is already a talented, driven person, and he only needs about 6, whereas I need a solid 8 like you. What's helped me (besides just naturally mellowing out with age) is just realizing this is not going to change. There's not a damn thing I can do about it except be kind to my body and get the sleep I need. I hope you find this peace, too.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:45 AM on August 4, 2014

I'd be more concerned with what they are doing when they are awake. Do they have an hour commute to/from work, bam their sleep advantage is pretty much gone. Do they have kids/pet/sick family bam even more advantage gone. So many other variables effect success. If they are up and moving earlier in the morning than you, then go to bed earlier, get up earlier so you are are up to speed by the time you get together. That is more your sleep cycle than your sleep length and easily adjusted.

Also have you read all the reports on just how under rested most of society is and how many accidents are caused by this? Don't be so sure they are getting enough sleep, they may just be getting enough coffee.
posted by wwax at 7:51 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Come to terms with it by acknowledging that nothing in life is fair. You could be the hardest-working person around, kind, smart, generous, and still get bupkis, while the lying, cheating jackhole two cubes down gets all the glory.

This isn't to say you have to just give up and die, but...pick your battles. Wasting energy being mad about the unfairness of some people sleeping less than you is utterly pointless. Make the best of the hours you are awake. Don't concern yourself so much with other people - that way lies insomnia and madness.
posted by rtha at 8:19 AM on August 4, 2014

I am really mad about this -- I'm actually a little confused by how angry I am. It just seems like such a stupid limitation to have, and a stupid reason to be less useful than other people.

Yeah, this is an odd thing to be obsessing over and be upset about. You're just thinking of raw potential time, not time actually spent. I suspect something else is bothering you and this is just proxy, because this is completely irrational. Therapy might be in order, so you can work out why this is bugging you.

Look, it doesn't matter if you sleep 12, 8 or 6 hours. What truly matters is what you do with the time you have. Be productive with what you got, rather than fretting about what you don't have. There will always be someone who has something or does something better than you. Hell, there will be a lot of people who are better than you are some things.

In the environments I've been in, there's a lot of not sleeping. It's sort of a pride/toughness thing -- even though people are gradually becoming aware that it really can mess you up.

Exactly this. It messes you up bad. Quit trying to play that dumb game and work on being the marathon runner who can go the distance.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:26 AM on August 4, 2014

Take this for what it's worth, but in my experiences in life, with myself and others, there is some relationship between depression and the 'need' for more sleep.

May be worthwhile to reflect on yourself and see if it's possible that you have some minor underlying depression issues.
posted by eas98 at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2014

Nthing play the cards you get dealt. That's the randomness of being alive, not some cosmic force of justice deciding to punish you for reasons unknown.

I don't say this to be flippant; I say it because unless you want to be miserable the rest of your life, you have to be able to make peace with the fact that this is just how life is. I don't even see it as a matter of fair or unfair; I personally think concepts of justice are largely only applicable where the undesirable outcome has been a result of someone's conscious choice or behavior -- think being convicted of a crime you didn't commit, for example, or being hit by a drunk driver. That's unfair. But the randomness of ways in which our lives are better or worse than others is mostly value-neutral.

Look, everyone gets dealt a certain hand of cards. Some people get a royal flush. Some people get a pair of 2's. Some people don't even get that. Your happiness is not ultimately determined by what cards you got dealt -- that's not in your control. What's in your control is how you play the hand you're dealt.
posted by scody at 8:28 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hmm... a couple of thoughts.

1. I need about nine hours a night (so, more than you) but this has not stopped me from becoming a professor, going to top universities and PhD programs, and generally succeeding in all the ways that success mattered to me. The reason? As people above have said, sleep is just one of any of a thousand possible variables that "matter" for success. I didn't luck out in terms of how much sleep I need, but I probably lucked out in other things. I don't know you, but unless you were born to a homeless mentally ill neglectful parent, I'm going to guess that you also have some advantages that you didn't earn. We have to play the hand we're dealt, but for most of us who are posting on Metafilter, there are more good cards in that hand than bad ones. Think about how best to use your Aces, and don't worry about the rest.

2. I used to get about 5-6 hours a night and genuinely thought it was enough. I powered through with caffeine and willpower. Then I spent a year where I got 12 hours a night, basically erasing many years' worth of sleep debt, and found to my surprise that my thoughts were so much clearer and life was so much better. Even though at 9 hours I sleep so much more now than I did at 5-6, I get about as much done -- I'm much more efficient with my time, make many fewer mistakes, and am much clearer in my thinking. I'd be willing to bet that a lot of the people you see at your high-achieving universities and workplaces are like I was. Those places foster a culture of "work work work" and "sleep is for the weak" and in my experience, on balance, people there don't do better work as a result of this culture. Kudos to you for actually getting enough sleep and probably being clearer and more focused and more productive with the time you do have.

3. There are some nice side-effects to prioritising sleep. One of the main ones is that it forces you to keep that toxic "sleep is for the week" / "work is all that matters" culture a little bit at arms length. Again, I speak from experience, because I ate and drank of that culture for a long time. I am much happier now that I prioritise other things (including sleep) a little more. Although I may be publishing a little less, I'm still as successful as I ever wanted to be, and I'm much happier with the extra balance. Your need for sleep may push you toward this kind of balance more than your peers, and I think over the long arc of your life you'll probably be grateful for it.
posted by forza at 8:31 AM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

You absolutely need to acquire my favourite slogan T shirt of all time and use it as a PJ top.
posted by flabdablet at 8:32 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Life is fundamentally imbalanced and unfair. If you think needing an extra hour of sleep is unjust, try living in multigenerational poverty! Or being born in a place with no clean water! Or having ALS!

In general, it will serve you to focus on other things, besides those ways where you don't have the most privileged position. Meditation, volunteer work, keeping a gratitude list - maybe something like that would help?
posted by latkes at 8:33 AM on August 4, 2014

I was once part of a philanthropic organization where a few of the leaders were promoting the idea that it was meritorious for folks to get less sleep so they could spend more time doing good in the world. They saw sleep as a bug and not a feature, an unproductive activity that was ideally minimized and spent on more productive things.

One day, there was an incident. Someone who was following this advice passed out at a place of business while running errands. I thought everyone was so lucky that he did not pass out while driving.

It's one of the reasons why I eventually left this organization. Out of a lack of understanding of what people need, as well as myopia from their own personal experiences of needing less sleep, they were advocating a policy that could actually be very counterproductive to their mission.

This "advice" also did not square with my own personal experience of sleep, which is that it is very useful, and not just in a restorative sense. I have solved many tough problems after a good nights sleep. Of course, it's also my own personal "holodeck" in the sense that I have and remember really great dreams. (Not quite productive in a work sense, but very worthwhile recreationally.)
posted by jazzbaby at 8:54 AM on August 4, 2014

Here's another way to look at it.

Many, many of the people who are surviving on 5 or 6 hours sleep (and I say surviving because that's what it is; it's not a pleasant life for most people who do it), are doing it to deal with perfectionism, procrastination and disorganization. (I bet you they're also spending most of their weekends asleep). For some high achievers, school and even college are easy to coast through with the odd late night here and there to finish a paper. They never learn the discipline necessary to plan their time to get work done in ordinary working hours. So when they start grad school and then careers, they don't have good work habits. These are the people who always seem to have time to chat at the office, or to go for long lunches. It's because they are staying up till 2 am most nights just to get the essentials done. The lack of sleep is not the result of a biological need for less sleep, it's driven by an inability to make good choices & use time effectively during the day. I'd say in my career I've seen this 100 times for every time I've seen someone who truly didn't need much sleep.

You should totally flip your view of this around. For you to achieve this highly and still get 8 hours of sleep a night, you must be super organized, very effective in your use of time and not hampered by being a perfectionist-procrastinator who wastes the day and has to compress all the important and urgent work into a few hours that should really be spent sleeping. I'm envious of people who can live their life in such a way that they can get 8 hours of sleep. It requires almost superhuman levels of planning for me to do that even for one day.

People who brag about needing less sleep are not getting more done. They are bad planners and bad prioritizers and they are going to be burned out, sick and depressed by the time they are 30.
posted by yogalemon at 9:03 AM on August 4, 2014 [6 favorites]

A lot of those people who get by on significantly less sleep are doing so with the help of various drugs (OTC, prescription, and sometimes even illegal). So you could try that too if you really want but of course there are side effects and long term consequences...
posted by Jacqueline at 9:14 AM on August 4, 2014

If you're the sort of person who processes through reading fiction, you might like Beggars in Spain. IMHO the original novella covers the territory adequately, but there is an expanded novel version, as well.

I need 8 hours and 15 minutes of sleep a night (no, really, I do, precisely that) and I've made my peace with it. It helps that I like to sleep. Sleep is where I'm a Viking! I love going to bed at night feeling that heaviness of body and mind, I love the transition to sleep when my thoughts drift from orderly to deeply random and weird, and I love arising refreshed in the morning would rather groan and heave myself out of bed having gotten the amount of sleep I need than have to sleepwalk through the day.

Every once in a while I see one of these people who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You, and I think, "Yeah, I bet they get about four hours of sleep a night," then shrug and move on. I'm not them, I'm not going to be them, and somehow it's more comforting to me to attribute the disparity to amount of sleep needed rather than intelligence or willpower or chutzpa or some other thing that's more obviously a virtue.

Realizing how much sleep you actually already puts you ahead of about 90% of the population. I have so many conversations with people who are like, "Oh god, I'm so tired, I need so much coffee, I have a terrible headache, I can't even focus my eyes, I am so miserable, my life is unending torture, blah blah blah," and I'm like, "Have you tried going to bed earlier?" and they look at me like I've grown a third head, because of course they're not going to do that.

You can live a perfectly adequate life even if you are only awake for 16 hours a day, and if it means you're not going to be Secretary of State or win the Noble Prize, well, you're in good company, because most people are just normal people who have the time, energy, and talent to do some things and not others and choose their priorities accordingly.
posted by BrashTech at 10:30 AM on August 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

(Or the Nobel prize, either. I clearly need more sleep.)
posted by BrashTech at 10:57 AM on August 4, 2014

I need 6 hours of sleep a night -- it used to be 5 when I was younger -- and trust me, I am not living a more full life than anyone else. As a nightowl anyway I'm not very alert in the morning. And those "extra" couple of hours at the end of the day? Usually I'm chilling out, watching Netflix, maybe painting my nails.

So maybe technically at the end of the day I'll have spent a little more time in my life watching Fringe than someone who gets 8 or 9 hours of sleep every night, but it's really not a huge advantage or anything.
posted by jess at 12:06 PM on August 4, 2014

If you do more sleep study research, you'll find time and time again people think they're OK with less sleep when in fact they're seriously impaired. So they may think they're OK on 6 hours, when they're actually not (novel gene variants excluded). So perhaps a few people possess this gene, but they're far outweighed by the number of people boasting about how little sleep they get while suffering from its effects.
posted by schroedinger at 12:08 PM on August 4, 2014

I prefer to think that THOSE PEOPLE who can keep it together on less sleep ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE. They must also litter, or secretly dog-ear library books, or be terrible in bed, or get some other form of karmic payback.

I find this technique works for nearly anything I might be envious about.

Maybe this says more about me than about them? YMMV. Danger: frequent application might damage soul.
posted by gregglind at 12:24 PM on August 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Hey there!

I'm one of those 6-hour-a-night people, and I've been one pretty much my whole life, since long before I had access to any stimulants besides maybe an extra cookie after dinner.

they're going to get 5 extra years of actually living

Thinking about it like this doesn't really make any sense, and won't do you any good at all. It's not like I got to live my early 30's twice - those "5 years" get portioned out to me one or two hours a day, one day at a time.

preponderance of biological evidence that some people actually don't need as much sleep as I do

Sure, and I'm likely one of them - but I'm not a world-beating megalomaniac, so those "extra" hours in a day means I've got time to take a nice long shower in the morning and get in a couple of extra episodes of whatever TV show I'm binge-watching at night. You seem to be drawing a correlation between "needs less sleep" and "high-achiever" that isn't universally true.

In the environments I've been in, there's a lot of not sleeping. It's sort of a pride/toughness thing

Yeah, I had a lot of dumb ideas when I was in my twenties, too . . . .

Fuck'm. You'll be a happier and healthier person if you spend a hell of a lot less time and energy worrying about what everybody else does.

when I'm around these people it always feels like they're just beating me, especially in the morning. They're thinking and moving faster and better than I can.

I'll second wwax above that this is probably better fixed by finding and maintaining your personal proper sleep cycle. If it takes you 8 hours of sleep in order to kick ass in the morning, then get your 8 hours and then go kick some ass.

executives specifically and more generally other people at the top of their chosen professions tend not to sleep much.

I'll second Frowner above re: those high-level execs almost certainly have a whole support team (personal & professional) behind them that you never really hear about. They're not starting a load of laundry at 11 pm like the rest of us who don't need much sleep.

I'm relatively young, and I've been on the "high-achiever" track for most of my life ("elite" school, competitive jobs, high expectations).

I'm totally not a therapist or anything, but it sure sounds like you might have some stress going on that is manifesting as this somewhat odd anger and jealousy, and it might help to talk to a professional about this.
posted by soundguy99 at 3:57 PM on August 4, 2014

Maybe this is a red herring and a trigger for something else - a time when you felt unfairly disadvantaged, held to the same standards as someone else while being given fewer tools. A time when you were judged by something you couldn't control. I'm saying this could be a childhood thing.

Also when it comes to competing at this elite level, sometimes it comes down to pure biology which is ouside of your control. Michael Phelps won Olympic swimming medals because he has ginormous hands and feet. He didn't have to train as hard as the others. We are taught the American Dream that anyone can get there with effort but there are some limitations.

I can tell that I'm not as smart as some as my friends, I cannot draw connections between disparate points as easily as they can. I was at a party with several Mensa people and they busted out this complex board game. I could not get one single answer. And I was used to being the smarty pants!! I had to concede that they had this skill and that's that. I can only do what I can do.

Are you new to Ivy League? Maybe before you were a big fish in a small pond. Now you're an average fish in a pond of big fish. Everyone is excellently smart and yet there will be subtle differences that you notice. That's the roll of the dice as others have said. Resenting it will waste your energy (and will make you need more sleep!).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:27 PM on August 4, 2014

Maybe to get over your envy you could drink three large cups of coffee a day for a few weeks. Personally, I can only sleep five hours a night on this regimen, but other side effects insue. I cut back on the joe once I mad the sleep/headache/jitter connection but maybe others are not. Yuck.
posted by Kalmya at 5:29 PM on August 4, 2014

Another way to look at this is to be pleased that you worked this out now. So you need 8 hours sleep. Can you imagine how terrible the next ten years would have been if you didn't work this out till then? Knowing how your specific body works is a incredibly important when it comes to improving your performance.
posted by kjs4 at 10:15 PM on August 4, 2014

I don't think sleeping a lot is a disadvantage. There are increasingly more scientific evidence on how sleep improves our overall health and memory. My body needs at least 10 hours. I have some friends who sleep 4-6 hours and some can stay up the whole day without coffee or tea. I don’t envy them because a good sleep is a luxury and many people don’t have this. Instead, I always think how I can work productively, avoid distraction and live a meaningful life. Once I asked a workaholic friend why doesn’t he sleep more, he replied “you can sleep all you want when you die”.
posted by liltiger at 9:49 PM on August 9, 2014

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