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Short Sleeper

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What is it?

A short sleeper is a person who regularly sleeps less than the average member of his age group. His nightly length of sleep tends to be five hours or less. This sleep is unbroken and of a very good quality. The short sleeper feels alert and refreshed after waking up. He is able to function normally during the day on a very small amount of sleep.

The limited time asleep occurs naturally. It is not a forced attempt to restrict or avoid sleep. This low amount of sleep is very stable from night to night. It is also the same on weekends and holidays.

A pattern of short sleep often begins as a child or young adult. Once it begins, the pattern tends to continue through the years. This pattern of short sleep may cause others to be concerned. Family members or friends may think that something is wrong.

Someone may tell a short sleeper to use hypnotics to help him sleep more. This will force him to get sleep that he really does not need. It will only cause him more problems. A short sleeper will also have trouble with family and friends if he expects others to follow his pattern of sleep. Most people will not be able to function well with only five hours of sleep each night.

A person who often takes naps is probably not getting enough sleep at night. Naps taken during the day should be added to the amount of time spent asleep at night. This will produce a total daily sleep time. A person who sleeps five hours at night and naps two hours during the day is not a short sleeper. He is getting seven total hours of sleep.

Short sleeping can be confused with insomnia. Both conditions can cause a person to get a small amount of sleep at night. A person with insomnia has a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. The overall quality of his sleep may be very poor. This can cause him to be sleepy during the day. The short sleeper does not have any of these problems.

Who gets it?

Short sleepers can be found in all age groups among both men and women. It is very rare for a young child to be a short sleeper. The pattern of short sleep appears to run in families. The genetic cause for this is still unknown.

Your personality may raise your chance of being a short sleeper. People who tend to be overly active and full of energy are more likely to be short sleepers. This is also true of people who do not seem to worry about much.

How do I know if I have it?

1. Do you regularly sleep for less than five hours per night during the week and on the weekend?

2. Do you normally feel alert and well rested during the day?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you may be a short sleeper.

It is also important to know if there is something else that is causing your sleep problems. They may be a result of one of the following:

  • Another sleep disorder
  • A medical condition
  • Medication use
  • A mental health disorder
  • Substance abuse

A child may be a short sleeper if he regularly sleeps for at least three hours less than is normal for his age.

Do I need to see a sleep specialist?

You may not need help if you are getting enough sleep to feel alert and well rested during the day. You should be able to sit in quiet situations (e.g., class, meeting, reading, watching TV) without nodding or falling asleep.

Talk with a family doctor about your pattern of short sleeping. You may need to see a sleep specialist if your lack of sleep is affecting the quality of your daily life.

What will the doctor need to know?

First, the doctor will need to know when your short sleeping started. He will also want to know what else has been going on in your life. The doctor will need to know your complete medical history. Be sure to inform him of any past or present drug and medication use. Also tell him if you have ever had any other sleep disorder.

You will also want to keep a very careful and detailed sleep diary for two weeks. The sleep diary will help the doctor see your sleeping patterns. This information gives the doctor clues about what is causing your problem and how to correct it.

Will I need to take any tests?

No tests are needed for a doctor to detect that you are a short sleeper. Your doctor may have you do an overnight sleep study if he thinks that another sleep disorder is making you sleep less. This study is called a polysomnogram.

The polysomnogram will chart your brain waves, heart beat, and breathing as you sleep. It will also record how your arms and legs move. This will show if there are other disorders, such as sleep apnea, that are causing your sleep problems.

How is it treated?

A short sleeper does not need any treatment. His sleep is very normal. If a medical condition or another sleep disorder causes the short sleeping, then those conditions will need to be treated.

Reviewed By Sharon L. Schutte-Rodin, MD
Updated on May 18, 2006

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