How different would your life be, if you had 60 more days of free time in a year? In this era where individuals wear their ability to survive on minimal sleep on their sleeves as a badge of honour, it wouldn’t be difficult to find people who can run on only 4 hours of sleep each day and eventually get the extra 60 free days! Yet, they risk their cognitive and physical health in the process.
But what if there are people who can run on minimal sleep without risking anything? Figures like former British PM Margaret Thatcher and actor James Franco are such individuals: they are super sleepers who only require 4 hours (or less) of sleep to rejuvenate for the next day. Super sleepers are individuals who do not feel the fatigue that sleep-deprived people feel, but are instead more positive, more tolerant to physical pain and have higher metabolism than 99% of the population. Interestingly, they do not only survive, but excel despite their minimal sleep.
Sadly, research shows that the ability to super sleep is controlled by the gene DEC2. This means that the rest of us can never train to excel with minimal sleep. We can only count on getting sufficient rest to achieve our optimum performance, as the blessed 1% occupy their longer days with ‘more productive’ work.
The gene DEC2 allows super sleepers to complete essential bodily functions, from cellular repair to toxin removal, in a shorter period of time. Contrary to the belief that more sleep puts people in a better mood, the discovery of gene DEC2 surfaces the fact that it is the efficiency of the brain rather than the length of sleep, that determines an individual’s emotional well-being.
Although researchers are experimenting with ways to help the majority of us sleep better, we should continue to strive for the optimal 7-9 hours of sleep each day so that the body has enough time to work properly to prevent conditions like obesity, as well as mental and physical side effects. Until there’s a breakthrough in the next few decades, proper sleep is not only for the weak, it is for the 99% of us humans who do not have the DEC2 gene.
By: Jolyn Chia