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'Short Sleepers' Cheery Despite Less Sleep

Short Sleepers

Do you only get six hours of sleep each night, but still feel fine the next day? You may be a "short sleeper."

New research published in the journal SLEEP helps explain why some people can sleep just six hours or less per night but still feel energetic and engaged in daily life: It's a genetic variation. So-called natural short sleepers may hold the key to understanding some diseases, including obesity and bipolar disorder.

Christopher R. Jones, MD, PhD, an associate professor of neurology at University of Utah School of Medicine, estimates that 1 in 200 people are short sleepers and do not exhibit behaviors a sleep-deprived person would, such as irritability and apathy.

Jones says their genes may hold the key to treating depression due to personality traits they possess. "These people are typically characterized by their optimism, outgoing nature, and rapid speech," he says. "I like to call it behavioral activation." Short sleepers also show brain activity and physiology that may offer promising leads in the study of bipolar disorder and ADD.

Further research reveals that the majority of short sleepers are not obese, which seems counterintuitive because many sleep-deprived people tend to overeat. In lab studies, mice that sleep only six hours per night for one week experience weight gain. Could understanding more about short sleepers help tackle the obesity epidemic? Jones hopes the answer is yes.

Jones cautions that most people need more than six hours of sleep. The average adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. "Most of us are safer drivers, we are more productive and happier with more sleep," he says.

If you don't get enough sleep, says Jones, "you are at an increased risk for obesity, irritability and many other problems."

If you think you are a short sleeper, contact Sara Woltz to see how you may participate in a research study.