The myth of short sleepers

I was fascinated by a piece on yesterday’s Morning Edition about sleep, In today’s world, the well-rested lose respect. A myth has been created by America’s most successful politicians, businesspeople and other luminaries that their success is in some way tied to a physical condition, short sleeping, that allows them to have more productive hours than the rest of us.

Sleep researchers believe that short sleepers are not prevalent , and that those who claim to be short sleepers are simply redefining what sleep is (and sleeping on the job, in the limo, on the plane, etc.) or are just used to functioning on insufficient rest.

So I ask, what’s more likely:

  • A superbreed of humans with the ability to stay awake longer than the rest of the population has taken over the powerful positions of the world in the middle of the night
  • A third, independent variable, namely drive or motivation, has led to both the success and stress-induced insomnia that come with being in a powerful position

This story is so powerful that one of the interviewees had the following to say about her daughter:

My daughter, who has a life-threatening disease, when I asked her if there’s one thing you could change about yourself physically, I’d expect her to say she’d like to get rid of her life-threatening condition. No way. She’d say “I would abolish the need for sleep, so I could get more done.”

I find it really tragic that our society has arrived at this position, and that people want to sleep less. I like to sleep 8 hours nightly, and if I’m ever powerful enough to be asked how I got to where I am, I’ll say it was the sleep.