Can You Train Yourself to Live on Less Sleep?

I used to admire people that slept only 3 or 4 hours a night. For many years, I “trained” myself to get along on 5 or 6.

The benefits are obvious: an extra 2 or 3 hours a day to put to good use. At my writing pace (10 words a minute), that would allow me to write about 60,000 words a year. That’s a book.

I spent about a decade living that way and I was never as productive as I thought I would be. For one thing, I flagged after lunch. For several hours I could do nothing more demanding than sort through email. Another consequence: more frequent colds, which decreased my output considerably.

Many people think, as I did, that they can teach themselves to need less sleep. But in the last 10 years there have been several significant studies that came to the opposite conclusion.

One of those studies was conducted by the Center for Sleep and Circadian Neurobiology at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. According to Dr. Sigrid Veasey, who led the study, getting less sleep not only decreases mental acuity and physical productivity, it impairs judgment.

After looking at all of the recent studies, the National Sleep Foundation determined that, on average, people over 65 need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep, teenagers need 8 to 10 hours, and school-age children need 9 to 11 hours.

How do you know how much sleep you need?

There is no easy answer to that. But if you have periods of physical or mental fatigue nearly every day, it’s safe to assume that you’re not getting enough.

A good way to find out if you’re sleep-deprived is to pay attention to the way you feel throughout the day. Ask yourself:

  • Do I feel positive and energetic?
  • Does my brain feel sharp?
  • Is my temper even or do I frequently feel angry and/or anxious?

Dr. Veasey did this herself and found, to her chagrin, that she needs to sleep 9 hours a night to function at optimal levels. When I did it, I found that I need 7.5 to 8 hours. If I don’t get that much at night I try to schedule an afternoon nap to make up the difference.

For ideas about how to get more and better sleep, go to: