Brad Johnson initially believed there was something wrong with him. Because he couldn't sleep as much as other individuals. Although Johnson was an active and focused child and later a highly successful adult, he carried this worry in the back of his mind. “Physically, I can't sleep like other people. And wherever you turn, you hear that you need seven, eight or nine hours of sleep a night to function at your best. Otherwise, you risk developing major health problems and you will never be as productive as before, says Johnson, 65. For as long as he's known, he's only been sleeping four to six hours a night. The same was true for his father and four of his seven siblings since they were little.
Six hours of sleep is considered eight or nine hours for most people. “When I sleep less than four hours, I have the same problems that anyone who is sleep deprived has,” he continues.
Johnson graduated with honors from college, held executive positions at Lands' End and REI, was deeply devoted to his faith, and married and fathered eight children. Despite leading such a busy life, she couldn't help wondering why she felt great after only six hours of sleep and why she didn't need any alarms to wake up rested.
Johnson didn't begin to uncover any solutions until 2005.
He decided to enroll in a sleep study to find out who had been extremely successful with very little sleep. A few years later, another sleep study was conducted on Johnson. That's because Johnson's blood had unique gene mutations that most people don't. Johnson participated in the experiments by answering in-depth questionnaires about his sleep patterns and general health, and the researchers tracked his daily activity and sleep patterns for eight days.
Scientist Ying-Hui Fu studies circadian rhythms, the body's internal clock that regulates sleep, at the University of California, San Francisco's Weill Institute for Neurosciences. He and his team discovered in 2009 that certain DNA changes in people called "short sleepers" cause them to sleep incredibly efficiently.
Fu's team has so far discovered five mutations in three of the genes that regulate how much sleep a person needs, but they believe other genes may be involved.
Your cognitive and neurological processes such as memory, thinking, learning, moving and feeling energetic are controlled by sleep. But getting a good night's sleep isn't always related to how much sleep you get. The more effective the sleep, the less sleep you need.
Fu says this is a hallmark of short sleepers, who need about half as much sleep as the majority but work just as well.
He and his team discovered a few traits that all short sleepers possess, despite being a rare person genetically predisposed to sleep fewer hours a day. They generally live longer and have better mental and physical health. According to his research, these people are incredibly lucky because they seem to have some surprising common traits:
In addition to needing less sleep, these short sleepers are more active (18 to 20 hours) while awake than the average sleeper. According to Fu, they often multitask because they have extra time. As a result, individuals can work double jobs, study while working, or engage in other activities. He claims they are seldom idle.
Also, short sleepers appear to have fewer health problems than long sleepers. Health problems of short sleepers such as diabetes, heart disease and other diseases do not appear until later in life. In Fu's studies, even those who sleep 60 to 80 years old are in good physical and mental condition. For example, one study participant, who is almost 80 years old, recently started training for a triathlon. Others are able to exercise for long periods without experiencing any discomfort. According to him, these people are “extremely positive, pleasant and robust” and can cope with stress better than normal sleepers. Fu continues, “They also have other unique features, such as superior memory, greater pain tolerance, and no jet lag.” According to Fu, “their bodies are working at or near 100 percent every day.”
One of the research participants had an outstanding memory and did not need to take notes in class. Another person can speak 13 languages. Others do not feel pain when exercising for a long time.
Sleep is our body's first line of defense against illness. According to Fu, “our body works extremely hard to help us maintain our health while we sleep – eliminating toxins, removing waste products, repairing damage, doing all kinds of things so that our body can maintain the health it needs.” Let's say our body has to perform ten tasks while we sleep. And what takes eight hours of sleep for most of us, it only takes four to six hours for these [short sleepers]. Why?"
This is the key question for Fu and colleagues.
Fu and his team have previously studied "morning owls," or those who go to bed early and get up early, in their research on sleep. Meanwhile, scientists learned that some of the morning bird study participants had a gene mutation. According to Fu, it turns out that these people don't go to bed early but still wake up very early.
Following this discovery, Fu and his team began searching for individuals who fit the definition of a late sleeper and an early riser. According to Fu, we've received tens of thousands of emails from people who have stated that they are or know a similar person.
Although many members of the group slept less than usual, only a small fraction of them – a little over 100, including Johnson – turned out to be true short sleepers.
After it was shown that all short sleepers share the recognizable gene mutation, the researchers were interested in learning how it affects the brain. To learn more about the brain neurocircuitry underlying sleep, the researchers turned to mice. “Mice with the same mutation also sleep less. At that time we declared that we believed it to be true,” says Fu.
Fu looked for "unique neurocircuits for sleep length and efficiency" in the brains of mice with short sleep gene mutations, and for specific patterns of brain activity while they slept.
He claims that although he has identified certain universal brain pathways, additional research is still needed to determine how genes control human brain function. However, the finding of the same gene changes and behaviors in healthy mice supported Fu's conclusion that humans can sleep four to six hours each night and still maintain their health and function.
How Does It Feel To Be A Short Sleeper?
A higher-than-normal pain tolerance is one of the common experiences shared by short sleepers. Johnson has firsthand knowledge of this. Both knees need replacement, but to his doctor's surprise, he says he put off replacing them because his knees don't affect him unless he's jumping or running.
After his first colonoscopy, he had to experience this discomfort without anesthesia, as he neglected to make the necessary adjustments for returning home. “It was not pleasant at all. It hurt so much. But that was something I could handle,” he says.
Fu notes that since an inherited component is a major factor in sleep behavior, it's not surprising that Johnson and some of his close relatives had the same short-sleep needs. But he adds that this seems like a unique quality. Most of Johnson's siblings' children, and none of Johnson's children, have trouble falling asleep.
Johnson sees his naps as a gift from his genes. In doing so, she claims she has been able to achieve much more than she normally would, including helping others through her church. He feels lucky to have had the opportunity to give back in a way that I couldn't otherwise. And in that regard, this gift has great significance. I believe that finding great fulfillment and fulfillment in life comes from helping and giving back to others.
So why do individuals like Johnson initially have this mutation?
Fu doesn't know this, but thinks it may have to do with stronger light for longer hours in homes now that electric lighting has been introduced.
Maybe the environment reacts negatively to staying up late. While it's fun to guess, he admits there's no way to back that up at the moment.
More research is needed to fully understand the functions of the brains of short sleepers during sleep, which is of greater importance. For example, do they dream in the REM cycle different from ours? Fu believes that with a better understanding of sleep, remedies can be developed to help everyone sleep better and live longer, healthier lives.
Source: Popular Mechanics