It’s not a myth, there are people, though likely little more than one percent of the population, who can get by on just four or so hours sleep a night.
Natural “short sleepers,” as they’re officially known, are night owls and early birds simultaneously. They typically turn in well after midnight, then get up just a few hours later and barrel through the day without needing to take naps or load up on caffeine. They are also energetic, outgoing, optimistic and ambitious, according to the few researchers who have studied them. The pattern sometimes starts in childhood and often runs in families.
I probably spend more time than I intend to writing during the hours of darkness, but there’s a certain, not so easy to define, appeal in doing so.
I write this from a swivel chair at 4.17am. Twitter has gone quiet. There is darkness for miles. I can hear a watch tick. It’s the longest night of the year, and if I time things carefully, I could avoid daylight for 48 hours. What’s more, research suggests it won’t just be me. There’s a mislaid family of readers and writers at night, and at this hour there’s nothing else to do but search for them
Apparently those who wake up early, “larks”, are more proactive than the “night owls” who prefer to work into the small hours.
A possible reason for a lark’s perceived higher productivity is down to the greater access they have to the people and services they require for their work, something a night owl may not enjoy at say 8pm, when many businesses have closed for the day.
These findings suggest that morning people really are more proactive. What’s not clear is why – whether it’s because they really do have an inherent energy and drive or if instead it’s simply easier for morning people to be proactive in a world that is generally tailored towards rising early, rather than working late.
The proactive-ness of a night owl may vary though, especially those who work with others across the globe. 8pm in say Australia is a fine time to get hold of people in parts of Asia and Europe, and a few hours later, people in the US.
The notion that we all must rise at some ungodly early hour in order to be healthy and successful has been scuppered by on-going research.
And while it has been found that it is indeed a case of different strokes for different folks when it comes to sleeping preferences, so-called night owls also tend to be smarter than early risers:
Previous studies have shown that getting up late appears to be in our DNA, with our body clock regulated by a series of genes which determine whether we are larks or owls. Other studies have debunked the popular saying ‘early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’. Night owls have been shown to be cleverer than larks, with quicker minds and better memories. They also earn more.