Help me sleep less.
October 5, 2005 3:58 AM   Subscribe

Help me sleep less.

I want to get my life to be more productive. I want more time to DO stuff; rather than half of it sleeping.

From what I've read, I found it very common among the ultra successful to sleep little and wake up very early. Something like 4-6 hours a days. How do they make that a habit and still be productive without dropping off in the middle of the day?
posted by arrowhead to Health & Fitness (30 answers total)
I usually get about 4 hours a day and deisgnate one day every week or so to take a long nap or sleep in. It might take a while to transition, but your body can make it without that much sleep.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:15 AM on October 5, 2005

Each body is different. Some will crack under the strain of less hours, whereas some will survive. I can manage 7 hours a night for a few weeks, but then it starts to hurt. I've tried all sorts of things, but I definitely need my 8 to be 100%! Bear this in mind when trying things out..

From what I hear, too, it can depend on age. The older you get, the less sleep you'll need (to a point).
posted by wackybrit at 4:42 AM on October 5, 2005

I think it involves power naps.
posted by leapingsheep at 4:44 AM on October 5, 2005

Well, there's the uberman sleep schedule, but I don't know how realistic it actually is. I'd say the first simple goal would be to make sure you get your sleep schedule to be as regular as possible and then try to concentrate on improving the quality of your sleep. To do the first, make sure you wake up at the same time everyday (and no naps!). To do the second will require more work--you'll need to find out if you have any sleep disorders (snoring, sleep apnea, etc.). Once you know you're sleeping optimally, you can decide if you still need to shorten your sleeping time. Also, there's this.
posted by kimota at 4:45 AM on October 5, 2005

Edison apparently relied on power naps. I wanna say Churchill did, too.
posted by kimota at 4:46 AM on October 5, 2005

Perhaps you should try Uberman's sleep schedule, wherein one naps for twenty minutes every four hours or so, therefore sleeping only about two hours a day. How is it possible? Apparently, one can train oneself to go directly into REM sleep during each twenty-minute nap.

Supposedly Thomas Jefferson and Leonardo da Vinci often used this sleep schedule. I've never tried it, but if it does work, you would have significantly more time for "doing stuff".
posted by bpt at 4:52 AM on October 5, 2005

Try exercising more and eating a great diet.
posted by orange swan at 5:09 AM on October 5, 2005

When I exercise more, I find I want to sleep more too. YMMV.
posted by grouse at 5:16 AM on October 5, 2005

Keep in mind that sleep is not just wasted time. We do it for a reason. While I have read studies that suggest a small percentage (~2% IIR) of the population is capable of performing just fine with 4 hours or less, the vast majority experience degraded performance, memory lapses, decreased ability to learn, and slower reaction times.

That out of the way, from personal experience one of the most important things is a fixed schedule. You want a pattern that your body becomes used to. That means naps are okay, but sleeping in on the weekends is not.
posted by Nothing at 5:38 AM on October 5, 2005

adding on to what Nothing had to say. I also recall a sleep study that showed sleep deprived people performed substantially worse than rested people (not surprising), the clencher of the study was that people that are sleep deprived don't think their performance suffers.
Here's some random blog I found via google that explains it a bit better (and with better cites than forforf's memory).

I think that altering the sleep cycle may increase productivity, but reducing sleep beyond what your body needs may be counter-productive.
posted by forforf at 6:25 AM on October 5, 2005

Personally I find that the one thing that counteracts my thirst for sleep is a meaningful, thrilling project that needs immediate attention.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:26 AM on October 5, 2005

If you extend wakefullness beyond your normal between-meal interval, eat something.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:34 AM on October 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's cliche of course, but coffee works for me.

The last year or so I have had a very long commute + my wife is in night school + we have a child, which has had me up at 5am and in bed at 10 or 11pm. That gets me about 6-7 hours of sleep a night during the week.

I have about two cups of coffee in the morning when I get up and one right around 5pm. Oh, and probably a diet coke at lunch which has some caffeine as well I guess.

FWIW I do exercise and eat right, that may work as well as the coffee, I dunno.

[Chatfilter] I just got a new job, starts Monday, my commute will be just 2.9 miles, and I am SO psyched
posted by poppo at 6:39 AM on October 5, 2005

I think it's nonsensical - not to say 'yuppie bull' - to try to sleep less hours than your body requires: it is certain to impair your intellectual capacities, and it may even be hazardous to your health in the long run. Also, it's not going to make you "ultra successful". How about trying to be moderately successful to begin with, see how that works for you?

From the linked article: Czeisler likes to quote colleague Thomas Roth of the Henry Ford Sleep Disorders Center in Detroit, on the minimal-sleep end of the spectrum. “The percentage of the population who need less than five hours of sleep per night, rounded to a whole number,” says Roth, “is zero.”

And: When people make the unlikely claim that they get by on four hours of sleep per night, Stickgold often asks if they worry about what they are losing. “You get a blank look,” he says. “They think that sleep is wasted time.” But sleep is not merely “down time” between episodes of being alive.
posted by NekulturnY at 6:52 AM on October 5, 2005

Van Cauter says everyone should sleep nine hours in order to live long and be healthy.

I've noticed that even the smart people who don't sleep enough aren't as productive or creative.

It isn't how much you do. It's the quality of what gets done.
posted by ewkpates at 7:14 AM on October 5, 2005

Successful people also tend to exaggerate their lack of sleep. Sleep studies have shown that they actually sleep more than they claim to, either through not counting napping (though they may nap as many as 3 hours a day, here and there) or because their hours in bed are longer than they estimate. In our productivity-obsessed culture, sleep is characterized as a hallmark of laziness or sloth rather than a natural human function that maintains mental and physical health and mends daily damage to the body.

The idea that to be successful you should sleep only 4-5 hours is total propaganda. You can't control how much sleep you need; it waxes and wanes with age, but is largely an individual thing. Personally, I'm pretty successful, and I need a good 7.5-8 hours a night to be well-rested. Any less and I start getting stupider, and cranky, and eating too much as my body makes efforts to boost its energy level. I am much more productive and proactive when well rested.

Sleep studies also tell us that you can't really 'catch up' on sleep -- that is, you can't sleep short all week, then spend 10 hours in bed on the weekend and 'make up' for the lost sleep. You have cheated yourself of the regular daily need for sleep, and sleeping longer won't get you 'back to normal'.

The way to be successful is to get enough sleep for you. How do you know how much that is? Assuming you have a regular wake-up time, each night, go to bed about 15 minutes earlier than the night before. Keep moving back to add 15 minutes until you find that you wake up naturally, before the alarm goes off, feeling well rested. Getting enough sleep regularly is a life-changing thing.

If you find you are capable of sleeping, like, 10 hours without waking up naturally, you are probably either still in late adolescence (peak lifetime need for sleep) or are depressed - in which case you need to to treat that.
posted by Miko at 7:20 AM on October 5, 2005 [2 favorites]

What Miko said, to a T.

Fun article that ran in the New York Times a few months ago that you might enjoy: The Crow of the Early Bird.
posted by Sully6 at 7:33 AM on October 5, 2005

I am a college student, and work a fulltime job plus a part-time evening job. I get about 5 hours of sleep, on average, per night plus one long day of sleeping in on the weekend.

Staying active throughout the day is key to maintaining that sleep schedule. I exercise every day, in addition to my already full schedule. I ride my bike everywhere instead of taking a car. This kind of stuff helps keep me juiced. The times I find myself most tired is when I am sitting around, doing nothing whatsoever.

I take about two cups of coffee per day, in the morning.

Also, as was noted by others, I've found that as I've gotten older, I've been able to function on a lot less sleep (currently 23).

Oh, and I also feel like there's not much difference between getting up at say, 7:30 a.m. vs. 10:00 a.m. I'm no more refreshed getting up at 10. So instead of hitting the snooze button, tough it out, get up and ride your bike to work. Your body will wake up fast!
posted by dead_ at 8:10 AM on October 5, 2005

Everything above, with the exception of Miko's post, is wrong. The 95th percentiles of normal adult daily sleep need are 3 hours and 9 hours, and some healthy people require more or less to be rested.

You cannot train yourself to need less sleep. You can chronically sleep deprive yourself, which produces daytime somnolence, irritability and depression, decreased task performance, and other medical problems.

This has come across AskMe at least twice before, because I remember referring someone in a previous post to a still-more-previous post in which that "uberman" sleep schedule was debunked. You can find a few journals online of people who tried it and failed utterly.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:13 AM on October 5, 2005

How to become an early riser (plus Part 2) gives a good way to get just the amount of sleep you need, while avoiding oversleeping. (In a nutshell: wake up at the exact same time every morning and go to sleep as soon as you are tired enough every night.)
posted by mbrubeck at 8:48 AM on October 5, 2005

Exercise more. Initially this will make you sleep more, but once you get fit and maintain the routine you should find it makes you sleep less, but better. Also, it is generally true that you need less sleep as you get older. In my case I've gone from being the sort of person who could pretty much sleep in as late as I liked to someone who can't stand being in bed much after 8:00 and who normally wants out by 6:30 or 7:00. When I was a kid it used to amaze me how my father managed to get up at 6:00 am every day; now it doesn't. Finally, take afternoon naps if and when you can. I've found that less sleep at night coupled with 1-2 hours sleep in the afternoon keeps me rocking all through my waking hours. Basically, those lovely mediterranean Euros have had it right all along. Viva siesta! I realise this won't be possible every day, of course, but grab it when you can is my advice.

Finally, the person who said "You cannot train yourself to need less sleep" is wrong. You can, although "training" is maybe not the best word. You can improve your condition so that your body is more energy-efficient and thus doesn't require as much sleep. It's true that people's sleep needs vary but almost everyone will find that living a healthier lifestyle (diet and especially exercise) leads to a healthier body, and healthier bodies can run more efficiently than slobby ones.
posted by Decani at 9:25 AM on October 5, 2005

i second the comments about getting up early. I used to get up at 4 in the morning to row crew in college and...although that was pretty awful at first...I would get to campus bright and early, study, run errands, and then have a generally well rested day.

I don't get up that early any more, but I have found that when I make an effort to get up early before work I am more relaxed during the day.

I tried altering my sleep schedules like some of the ways suggested and it didn't feel very nice. I don't recommend it. Sleeping is nice.

PS. JFK used to do the 20 minute power nap routine. I think it makes sense for a president...somehow I doubt GWB is that committed.
posted by BigBrownBear at 9:33 AM on October 5, 2005

I find it's easier to go to bed later than to wake up earlier. If this is true for you, I also find that a bedroom with an unpleasantly large amount of natural light will wake me up as soon as it gets light out whether I want to or not. You might try repositioning your bed and/or altering your window treatments to effect change in this respect.
posted by trevyn at 10:46 AM on October 5, 2005

Why not try "lucid" dreaming as a path to, well, lucid thought and planning in your dreams? Can't say I've done a ton of intentional acts during my sleep per se, but a lot of my dreams involve thoughts and plans for the future. That and pink inverted unicorns, of course.
posted by lorrer at 11:54 AM on October 5, 2005

Arrowhead- excuse me if I'm being wa-a-ay too personal here...
I wonder why you feel you're sleeping too much and achieving little productivity. It may just be that your sleep/productivity ratio is fairly standard, and you want to crank up to super-achiever, I hope that's the case here. However, the sleeping too much/feeling I get nothing done are classic tell-tale signs for me when I'm depressed.
(It sounds idiotic, but I honestly don't realise I'm down until I'm at rock bottom. I need my Blindingly Obvious Indicators)
In either case, (depression or just plain underachieverness) here's what has worked for me:
- Make your bed every morning (oldie-but-goodie)
- Force yourself to spend less time at home. After work (or during the day, if not working) go to anything that's going on. In a larger city, that's a lot of stuff for free - lectures by retired Naval types, exhibitions, Hare Krsna banquets, Indonesian New Year celebrations, whatever. The trick is just not to be at home, near a bed.
- Exercise, as people have stated above. You get better quality sleep. (Also keeps you out and about)
- And good diet makes astounding differences too, but I've never managed to stick with that one! (My body is a finely tuned machine with a demanding nicotine/caffeine balance)

Best of luck.
posted by Catch at 1:55 PM on October 5, 2005

I get around four to five hours of sleep every night. I don't ever sleep in. I kind of do what others do, but I have this weird habit at night, when I get tired, I always say (out loud) "sleep is for babies," and try to guilt myself from going to bed at a reasonable hour.
posted by Quartermass at 2:49 PM on October 5, 2005

Another trait of successful people that may have been overlooked (or maybe only hinted at) is that they are usually engaged in activity that they are passionate about. The quality of one's attention often has a lot to do with whether or not they feel tired or awake.

There have been times in my life where I have slept much more than I thought was necessary, and these were usually times when I was not especially happy with my work situation, or my creative activities were either on hold or somehow 'stuck.' If you're looking around for something to do or ingest to keep you awake, the quality of your attention in those times is probably not great, which leads one to go in the direction of sleep. If you're genuinely interested in something (a hobby, a creative activity, a field of study) you're more likely to forget the passing of hours until it's time to go to sleep. Make sense?

Presently, I love my job, I have a lot of creative outlets, and I am generally very 'engaged' in all aspects of my life. I'm often embarrassed to sleep when it's bedtime because I'm having fun or otherwise pursuing my interests. I sleep ±6 hrs/night. If I sleep in past about 8:00am (which happens on a weekend) I feel groggy for quite a while and my eyes get puffy.

From personal experience (YMMV: not everyone has the same metabolism) I also find that the quality of my sleep is much better if I don't eat late in the day. I have a good-sized breakfast, a healthy lunch, and often skip dinner, or just have a snack. Herbal tea in the evening. I find if I eat a big meal at night, I usually wake up at some time during the night and have a hard time waking up. If I sleep on an empty (or full of herbal tea) stomach, I sleep through the night and wake up refreshed and light.

On preview: Boy, I sound like a real sap!
posted by al_fresco at 2:53 PM on October 5, 2005 [1 favorite]

"Successful people also tend to exaggerate their lack of sleep."
Bingo! I recently read a magazine article (can't remember where) that said almost all of that talk from CEOs that say they, "get up at 4:00 to exercise and I'm sitting at my desk at 5:30" is complete balderdash. Good post, Miko.

posted by Independent Scholarship at 4:15 PM on October 5, 2005

Finally, the person who said "You cannot train yourself to need less sleep" is wrong.

That was me. I didn't say it in a vacuum, though; you can find it written in every neurologic textbook that treats sleep. To hand, I have the chapter on 'Excessive Daytime Somnolence' in Bradley and Daroff 2nd Ed; it agrees with my clinical experience as a neurologist, sleep specialist and electrophysiologist, as well.

Why don't you cite a reference for your own claim? I'd be interested to read it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:24 PM on October 5, 2005

Independent Scholarship - i dont know. I worked at a major NYC law firm and the partners were all there at 6 in the morning.
posted by BigBrownBear at 4:31 PM on October 5, 2005

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