Short Sleeper & Long Sleeper

Lesser-known sleep disorders may alter how long you sleep.  

Based on research and diagnosis, only around one percent of the population will be diagnosed with short sleeper. Likewise, one percent will be diagnosed with long sleeper.  

What is short sleeper? 

Sufficient sleep has a critical role in brain and body function, and it is difficult to recommend a fixed amount of sleep at any age. According to the most recent research, normal duration of required sleep for adults (18-60 years old) is seven hours or more. However, bodily processes vary from person to person, including the normal hours of needed sleep.  

Around one percent of the population are short sleepers, meaning they sleep six hours or less each night, yet still function normally. They feel refreshed and well-rested with a shorter amount of sleep and without the need to catch up on sleep. In contrast to short sleepers, people with sleep deprivation, sleep restrictions or insomniacs feel tired and irritable the day after a poor night’s rest. Habitual or diagnosed short sleepers go to sleep and wake up easily, while keeping their own routine pattern. We have found that short sleepers tend to sleep for four to six hours a night on both weekdays and weekends. These people keep the same habits throughout their lives, from childhood to old age.  

Some research studies indicate that rare mutations and specific genes are more common among these people. Short sleepers are usually not the only people in their family who have this sleep pattern, leading us to believe short sleeper can run in the family.  

Do patients seek treatment for this? 

Short sleepers normally do not seek help. The reason is that, unlike insomniacs, they are functioning and behaving normally and feeling well. We should keep in mind that although short sleepers feel fine subjectively, we are not sure they are doing fine objectively. Some functional MRI imaging studies have indicated that short sleepers show signs of inaccurate perception in comparison to people who sleep for normal time durations. 

Many studies have proved that reduced hours of sleep (less than six hours) is accompanied by negative outcomes in the areas of: 

• Cardiovascular health: Hypertension & heart disease 

• Mental health: Mood & psychiatric disorders  

• Metabolic health: Obesity, diabetes mellitus type 2 and appetite dysregulation 

• Immunologic health: Immune cell dysfunction, infection susceptibility following germ exposure and vaccine immune response 

• Cancer: Elevated risk of breast cancer 

• Pain 

It is highly recommended that everyone create the proper time and environment for sleeping at night. Many people cannot seem to dedicate enough time to get the proper amount of sleep their body needs because of family responsibilities, stress or high-pressure jobs. 

What is long sleeper? 

Long sleepers are people who need more hours of sleep to function well compared to the typical person of the same age. Adults are called long sleepers if they need 10 hours or more each night. The quality and architecture of sleep is normal in this group.  

If habitual long sleepers get 10 hours of sleep per night, they feel refreshed and have no complaints. This amount of sleep is usually not doable because of social and work restraints, so they show symptoms similar to insomnia or sleep deprivation such as excessive daytime sleepiness, irritability and impaired function. 

What is the treatment or suggestion for those living as a long sleeper? 

First, they should consult a sleep specialist to make sure they are true habitual long sleepers and that they do not have a different sleep disorder. In order to diagnose these normal variants correctly, doctors need a complete history, physical exam, completed two-week sleep diary and required lab tests or sleep studies. These are necessary to rule out other causes of excessive daytime sleepiness such as depression, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, iron deficiency anemia and hypothyroidism. It is important to note that for teenagers, the normal requirement for sleep is longer than adults—around eight to ten hours. Because they have to restrict their sleep during school days, they catch up by sleeping long hours on weekends. 

If other causes of sleepiness have been ruled out, then long sleepers should simply get the proper amount of sleep their body needs. Some studies show that sleeping for long hours can have some compensating effect for consequent sleep deprivation.  

Dr. Leila Emami is an anesthesiologist and sleep specialist working at the Otolaryngology Research Center in Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran. She has been working in the field of sleep medicine and research for 10 years. She supervises three sleep labs in Tehran. 


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