I want to sleep less, without turning into a zombie.
December 3, 2013 11:23 AM   Subscribe

Is there any realistic way to train your body to need less sleep? Or any tricks to have better energy levels and brain activity if I just provide my body with less sleep?

I like sleeping in on weekends, but I hate going to bed, always. Night time is delightful! I work 9-5 with no flexibility and a 30 minute lunch that can't provide a nap-time.

I am one of those people who gets pretty cranky and sleepy if I don't get enough sleep (8 hours-ish seems to be good for me) but I'd love to stay up later and use those hours when I feel most awake (about 9pm to 1am.. not sleepy at all.) I currently make myself go to bed at around 11, and get up at 7ish, but I'd like to stay up later.. not for any reasons, I'd just prefer it. I'd prefer to only sleep about 5-6 hours a night.

I sleep much less now than I did as a teenager (I'm 27) and I'm wondering if there's any (realistic) way to make myself sleep even less but still live a normal life with normal daytime functioning. Is amount-of-sleep hardwired in, or is it something you can train for? should I stop drinking coffee and take supplements to make my adrenal gland more useful? should I drink WAY MORE coffee? any tricks or tips or science or thoughts or personal anecdata is welcome!

if it makes any difference, I fall asleep super-fast and sleep very deeply. I'm actually really good at sleeping, I just seem to need an irritating amount compared to other people.
posted by euphoria066 to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I just seem to need an irritating amount compared to other people.

I think the sad truth is, you don't- it's just that the cultural Thing these days is to get too little sleep every night.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:27 AM on December 3, 2013 [16 favorites]

Anecdata: I usually need 10 hours of sleep a night or I'm useless, especially in winter when there's not a lot of sun. However, I noticed that when I'm cutting carbs (especially in the afternoons) and eating more healthy in general (with fewer heavy meals), I need less sleep. I seem to have more energy as well.
posted by mochapickle at 11:33 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like sleeping in on weekends

This may be part of your problem. I find that when I don't adhere to a 5-days-this-and-2-days-that sleep cycle, my sleep is a lot better overall. Keeping to a consistent wake-up time helps my body understand "Okay, now I'm awake, time to get moving" and also helps it understand "Hey, I haven't slept in X hours, it's time to get to sleep."

For instance, I had a job for a couple of years where I was seven or eight time zones away from my home office, so I needed to be available until midnight or 1 a.m. I would do that, spend a couple of hours having fun, get to sleep around 2 and wake up at 8 the next morning to do a regular office day in my own time zone. When I changed my sleep pattern because of weekends (Don't have to stay up as late! Don't have to get up as early!), I found that I was dragging not just on the weekends but on Mondays and Tuesdays as well. So I went back to sleeping from 2 to 8 every day, and I was fine.

I had coworkers in the same situation who took naps right before or after dinner and said it helped, but once we figured out that consistency of the main sleep time was the real culprit, we were all much better at handling the schedule on what we felt was less than our optimum sleep time.

Second suggestion, unrelated to the first: Exercise. I sleep much better overall when I'm on a workout regimen.
posted by Etrigan at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2013

Cut out all caffeine and carbs. That usually reduces me from my typical 9.5 hours to around 8.5.

That said, sleep is really, really good for you. Like, the best thing you can do for your health. Without sufficient, deep sleep, even exercise and a healthy diet go to waste. So really ask yourself -- should you be looking at your current sleep cycle as a problem, or as a blessing?
posted by artemisia at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another piece of anecdata: a wakeup light has helped me both wake up better and operate with less sleep.
posted by saeculorum at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2013

I am going to second:
-Cutting out caffeine and carbs
-Going to bed and waking up at the same time regardless of the day
-Using a wakeup light (or SAD light)

I would also suggest -- although please check with a doctor first -- taking Vitamin D-3 supplements if you have an indoor job. Healthier meals can work out just about any vitamin imbalance, but D-3 is a trickier and people who spend a lot of time indoors tend to have a deficiency.
posted by griphus at 11:44 AM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I find I need less sleep when I'm exercising regularly.
posted by tealcake at 11:44 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I need about 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep every night or I get very crabby. I find that in order to do more stuff, I:

Make sure I get enough sleep so I'm more efficient doing the things I need to do. This may not work if your job has strict hours.

Take a nap after work so that I can be refreshed hanging out or just generally doing stuff later into the night.

I have not found less sleep to be in any way sustainable. For a while (in university), I drank about 6 shots of coffee everyday, and drank about 6 cans of cola every night. I slept about 3 hours a night during the week, but would end up crashing on the weekends and sleep 16 or so hours every night for those three nights. And I still felt terrible. Do not recommend.

Though maybe you can look into "biphasic sleep" or other alternative sleep cycles. Some people have reported success with those, but they do depend on a certain flexibility of your schedule conforming to your sleep schedule.
posted by ethidda at 11:52 AM on December 3, 2013

It sounds to me like you don't actually have a sleep-too-much problem. You have a can't-fall-asleep problem. You say that the late evening is when you feel most alert and productive, which makes it hard to (want to) go to sleep. The best thing you can do is not train yourself to NOT sleep during these alert hours but to train yourself to get sleepy earlier in the evening. Cut back on caffeine, do some exercise every day, don't snack too late at night, and get away from TV and computers during the hour or so before bedtime.
posted by joan_holloway at 12:06 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with joan_holloway above and amplifying.

If you want to try to get by on less sleep (measured in time) then you need to ensure that the sleep you do get is very high in quality.

One thing to try is to get yourself calm at least an hour before heading to bed. This means no gaming, fast/hard music, caffeine or other stimulants, bright flashy lights, etc.

Dont go running full tilt and then trying to immediately jump into bed and switch off, instead try to gradually coast down over an hour so that you're already calm and relaxed before you get into bed. Consider 15-20 minutes of meditation/deep breathing before turning in.

Also, make your bedroom as dark as possible - light is your enemy here. Fully close all blinds/shades, and consider blackout curtains if there is outside light that bleeds through. If you have electronics with lights in your bedroom that are on all night (cell phone chargers etc.), consider taping over the lights with electrical tape. Pitch black is the ideal. You may find that the light reduction alone improves the quality of the sleep you're getting.
posted by de void at 12:16 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

By all means, try what people are suggesting. But sleep is too important to skimp on. Older people tend to need less sleep (hormonal changes) so that might be in your future anyway.

For the long term, consider if 9-5 is the best solution for you. If you feel most awake between 9 pm - 1 am it is possible that you would produce better work during that time as well.
posted by travelwithcats at 12:25 PM on December 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing cutting out carbs. I need roughly an hour less sleep per night when I'm eating low-carb than I do when eating a standard diet.
posted by markslack at 12:32 PM on December 3, 2013

I start waking up far more easily, and feel far less groggy on waking, after a few days of fasting.
posted by flabdablet at 3:15 PM on December 3, 2013

> I'm wondering if there's any (realistic) way to make myself sleep even less but still live a normal life with normal daytime functioning.

Yes, you can definitely can deprive yourself of sleep and still live a normal life with normal daytime functioning -- if you are some kind of subspecies of human unlike all other humans on earth.

This is a very unwise idea. You can do this, and you might feel normal, but you will be harming your health. The more exhausted people get, the more they feel like they don't need that much sleep.
posted by ravioli at 5:35 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am pretty much on your schedule--have to be awake around the same time and go to bed at the same time. And...it's hard-wired in. 8-ish hours is normal for humans, period. Nothing you can really do about it....unless you get like me and get freaking paranoid about waking up in time for the alarm and sleep random amounts every weeknight because of it. Which is not fabulous either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:40 PM on December 3, 2013

If you don't get enough sleep, you will be tired. Sorry, there's no way to avoid it.
posted by windykites at 6:54 PM on December 3, 2013

The best thing I ever did was set myself up on a schedule where I don't need an alarm clock. I go to sleep early enough that I wake up when I'm done sleeping. It was practically a necessity for me, because I am irrational when I try to use an alarm clock. I hate it, I resent waking up, and I hate everything I have to do until I can sleep again. That is not a healthy way to live.

It's honestly not all that hard, but it takes discipline. 1- no naps. 2- wake up at the same time every day. 3- figure out what makes you drowsy, and do that before bed. I can't do anything interesting, or I get tired. But if laundry is the last thing I have to do in a day, I could not be more tired. If I go to sleep at 10 and then I wake up at 6, I don't go back to sleep to catch another hour, because I know I don't need it. So I wake up and get an early start on the day.
posted by gjc at 7:15 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

To sleep efficiently and feel good when you wake up, you should try not to fall asleep at a time that will make it so that you are right in the middle of a sleep cycle when your alarm goes off in the morning. This sleepytime bedtime calculator is a pretty cool little tool for figuring out when to fall asleep or when to wake up.
posted by Shebear at 6:44 AM on December 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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