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I have been trying to reduce how long I sleep so that I have more waking hours available. I have read this question, and this one but it does not really give an answer.

My question is whether I can train my body to sleep less. I currently have about 6.5 to 7 hours sleep per night. If I reduce that to 6 hours every night for the next two months, and then down to 5.5 hours then onward, will my body get adjusted to the new sleep pattern?

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Is the monophasic circadian your only option? –  Renan Jul 6 '11 at 14:45
    
@Renan, I really hate doing short sleeps. I always feel drowsy. So the doing in one stint or monophasic circadian in going to be the only option. –  tehnyit Jul 6 '11 at 19:52
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this is a terrible idea. your body needs a certain amount of sleep. i would say 8 hrs a day at least. it is preposterous to sacrifice your health for the sake of getting more things done. –  amphibient Jan 31 '13 at 19:24

16 Answers 16

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I usually sleep 5 hours every night. And on weekends (either on Saturday or Sunday), I sleep for around 12 hours. I did not practice it... it just became a habit because of work. Usually I go to bed at 12 midnight and wake up at 5 in the morning. I do not feel any tiredness or sleepiness during the day. This routine is going on for at least last 8 years or so.

So, I believe that you can reduce the amount of sleep (and still feel fresh) by practice. But you must practice slowly and try to cover up the sleep on the weekends.

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That is what I am trying achieve. Did it take the 8 years to reach the 5 hours period? Do you find that sleeping for 12 hours reduces your amount of time you want to do on the weekend? –  tehnyit Jul 6 '11 at 19:58
    
Well, it did not take 8 years. I don't know precisely when it started.While I was answering your question, I reflected back and found that it was at least 8 years. I suggest reduce your sleep one hour per month. But the most important factor here is belief. If you keep thinking about it, you will feel tired. Just begin waking one hour early or going to bed one hour late. And believe that there is nothing special. Do not think about it... just do it. –  matrix Jul 7 '11 at 5:47
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I wouldn't call spending time with the kids a waste..Thanks for the tips. I do use some of the time management techniques (GTD of sorts), but just want to get more time. –  tehnyit Jul 7 '11 at 6:55
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I think he was probably referring to the TV serials or cartoons being a waste of time for him rather than the time spent with his daughter per se. –  Michael Durrant May 9 '12 at 1:41
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I can attest to this. I have just been working full time for 3 months now and at first I couldn't last on 5.5-6 hours, but now I'm absolutely fine (as long as I sleep a long time on the weekends). However, you also have long-term health considerations that you should weigh up. –  Jase Mar 24 '13 at 10:47

It will adjust until it can't anymore.

Then your body will say, "OK, enough," and you'll fall asleep, right there, barreling down the highway at 65 MPH.

You'll get a lot less done if you're dead.

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+1 for glibness and not accepting the premise of the question. The whole point of GTD in my mind is that it allows you to get done what needs to get done in less time making the remaining time available for sleep and leisure and family. –  Adam Wuerl Jul 6 '11 at 18:13
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You are talking about sleeping almost not at all, @John. When you get less sleep than usual you might be more tired at certain moments in the day but it doesn't let you fall asleep. But I think it's still reasonable to do an attempt to get it down by ~2 hours, ignoring the health consequences... –  Tom Wijsman Jul 6 '11 at 18:26
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@tehnyit You're not foregoing sleep altogether, but you're building up a deficit that's not getting repaid. You're looking to do 6 hours every night then 5.5 hours, presumably every night. At some point this will catch up with you, and it might be catastrophic. That was my point. –  John Jul 6 '11 at 20:19
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It's not clear that 6 hours every night will result in a sleep deficit. There is a lot of individual variation, and that level may turn out to be just fine for him. –  weronika Jul 7 '11 at 18:27
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Sleep deprivation - the modern way to commit suicide. –  muntoo Dec 9 '11 at 6:49

Basically, you can train yourself not to sleep. It might be difficult, but it is possible. The problem is that sleep is not optional for human. You will suffer many consequences starting by the reduction of your productivity, your brain efficiency, etc. But that's not all, you will encounter consequences you had never think of such has starting to have more grey hair, or even losing them.

I advise you not to follow your idea.

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losing grey hairs is something I can deal with ;-) My health concern would be something like an increase of my blood pressure or not given my organs enough rest during the night ie wear out sooner. –  tehnyit Jul 6 '11 at 20:00

Different people need different amounts of sleep. It's entirely possible that you'll be able to get along fine on 6 or 5.5 hours a day - worth a try, at least. There's nothing inherently deadly about getting 5.5 hours of sleep a day.

On the other hand, it's also possible that it's not going to work for you, and you shouldn't try to force it if you've stuck to a schedule for a few weeks and you're still tired all the time. You can't train your body to do whatever you want - it has natural limits, which vary between individuals, but you need to be able to accept it when you hit one.

In the end, the only way to find out is to try. Just be responsible about it, decrease your sleep by a small amount at a time, and stop when it seems like it's no longer getting you anywhere.

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The single best effect I ever had on getting my 7 hours a night down to a comfortable 5 was by getting fit.

It might sound like a time waster, but by running, swimming or going to the gym for an hour or two every other morning before work and training to a level where I could happily run marathons gave me an almost immediate increase in energy. Combining this with a reduction in my caffeine and carbonated drinks intake improved concentration and energy.

It took a month or so, but then I had more energy all day, my peaks were higher and my low mid afternoon slump shorter and shallower, and best of all I had better sleep in shorter time.

So while I would encourage you to find out how much sleep your body needs now, I would suggest that getting fit will automatically move your body to a state which requires less sleep.

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That is a good observation. I ride my bike to work, about 45min each way. I always feel quite refresh and energetic when I ride regardless on the amount of sleep (5 -> 9 hours) that I get. –  tehnyit Jul 7 '11 at 10:32
    
I have found doing physical activity regularly has another effect: you can sleep whenever you want. So when some people take 15 minutes to fall into sleep for a 20 minute power-nap, you will take about 2-3 mins for it. –  KK. Mar 22 '13 at 14:41

Noting hurts productivity more than sleep deprivation.

There is an awful lot of conclusive research on the effects of sleep deprivation on productivity (usually done by armies), the sleep deprived teams are always much slower, less focused and make substantially more mistakes, also the sleep deprived individuals don’t notice they are performing so badly.

So, remember, you are not super human, you need your sleep – by working instead of sleeping you are likely just making a lot costly mistakes and setting yourself back more then you are advancing with your work.

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This is a valid argument provided we know at what level sleep deprivation kicks in. I believe that is a very individual characteristic. –  tehnyit Jul 7 '11 at 10:29
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@tehnyit - (a) one of the symptoms of sleep deprivation is that you don't feel you are performing poorly, so you can't know you are sleep deprived until something catastrophic happens (b) all the research says you need around 8 hours every night - there are individual variations but 6 hours are 25% less than the average - sorry, you are unlikely to be that unique (c) I sleep 5.5-6 hours per night (yes I'm sleep deprived myself) and I can tell you from experience that if you can't do it without training you need more sleep than that –  Nir Jul 7 '11 at 21:22
    
Yes, you actually get less done if you sleep less. Things take longer to do when you are sleep deprivied. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_deprivation –  HLGEM May 18 '12 at 21:56
    
I'm senstitve to this becasue I knew someone who died from a car crash caused by sleep deprivation as he became so exhasted he fell asleep at the wheel. It's just chance he didn;t kill someone else at the same time. It is stupid to try to sleep less to be more productive. Stupid and dangerous. –  HLGEM May 18 '12 at 21:57

You can sleep less than you are sleeping at the moment. If you simply cut the amount of sleep you will however likely reduce your mental capacity.

The goal shouldn't be to maximize time but to maximize energy.

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Every now and then I try to do more at the cost of my sleeping time. One argument for that is I don't fall asleep right after I get to bed. Always I regret of doing so.

Few observations, by myself:

  • I noticed that if I do work-outs and don't have a plenty of sleeping time, my muscules simply do not restore well,
  • Work-outs and aerobics contribute to a better sleep,
  • Stress is evil; sleep deprivation too,
  • What my brain is busy with during the day must be different from what it deals with the last 2 hours before the sleep.

If you strong with this intend, I recommend waking up at a specific time, say, 5 am, at any cost. You body will adjust and you'll feel sleepy just 'at the right time'.

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Our body's sleep patterns respond to light by production of serotonin and melatonin. One way to help wake up earlier in the morning would be to leave your blinds open and allow sunlight in as it, unless you are significantly sleep deprived, will help signal to your body that it is time to wake.

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I have to agree with pretty much all the above, but it mostly comes down to what your limits are. I for example, can't go with anything less than 7 hours or I start falling asleep during the day, whereas my brother can easily go with 5-5.5 hours and be as energetic.

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Many years ago, I practiced myself to sleep less. I started from 8 hours a day. I keep reducing til I reached 5 hours a day. I had to drink a lot of water during the day. I occasionally had fever when I tried to sleep less than 5 hours or when I didn't drink enough water.

I tried to sleep less because I believe that we gain experience and memory only when I wake up. Sleeping seems like a waste of time to me at the moment.

Many years had passed. I seems to gain more experience than people at my age. I believe my hard working had paid off. However, as @Zonata has mentioned, sleepless comes with its cost. I started to lose my hair.

So I shaved my hair or wear skin-head cut. :)

I didn't regret my actions. I am aware that I'm over-using (almost abusing) my body. But I don't know if I would have a chance to get old and use it many years from now. Again, I decided to choose more time today and I would accept the consequences even if that means torturing days when I get old.

In sum, the answer is you can. With practice and a lot of water, you can sleep few hours a day. Spending half an hour exercise + 5 hours sleep can make you feel fresher than 6 hours sleep (and you gained 30 minutes bonus in this case). But don't forget that you have only 1 body that you have to stick to for the rest of your life. Make sure you do not regret your decision.

You might want to search for sleeping techniques such as uberman sleep (sleeping in short periods spreading across the day) or mobile apps which wake you up when you are not in deep sleep (you feel drowsy and tired when wake up while you are in deep sleep).

Wish you made the choice that you won't regret! Good luck! :)

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Sleep deprivation is really bad for your health. Disrupting your circadian rhythm is really bad for your health. I cannot stress this enough, we're talking cancer, heart disease, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc. See the studies linked here.

However! You can keep your circadian rhythm active and sleep less while not being overly sleep deprived by doing polyphasic sleep. The idea is that you have to get very good at napping, and naps become compressed sleep that compensate a longer amount of nighttime sleep. The science surrounding this is sparse at best but there is certainly something to be said for this reasoning.

I have personal experience with this, I tried schedules with 3 evenly spaced 20-minute naps as well as SPAMAYL and all in all I did manage to function well on about 4-5 hours sleep but I never felt optimal. Nowadays I use my super napping power to sneak in a nap when I'm tired and I don't limit my sleep in other ways.

Doing polyphasic sleep taught me how to nap really well and how to fall asleep quickly, both nice skills to have. Give it a shot and see how you like it. In any case I don't believe it's something to do long-term.

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I've tried everything over the years. For me at least, the bottom line is: You need to get that 7-8 hours of sleep in. When I was getting less I was awake more obviously, but the quality of those awake hours went down....and I was filling my awake time with more and more meaningless activity. Exercise and better diet help me sleep more easily and routinely - and when I get up now and have a 16-17 hour day I get much more done, and the quality of what I do is better, than when I was having 19-20 hour day.

One thing that stuck with me, too, was something I read about evolution and how the one thing humans would have surely evolved out of was the need for so much sleep (as we are most vulnerable when asleep) - but we haven't.

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I would say that GTD doesn't mean just doing more things; as a technique it is there to help you Getting Important Things Done. What is more important getting 100 things done or spending time doing something you enjoy? GTD exists so that you have more time to do the things that matter to you. So if have to cut down on your sleep just to get a long list of things done... prioritise that list. GTD often argues that you pick 3 things for the day and try to get somewhere with those things.

Take a look at a site like ZenHabits, Leo Babuta has accomplished an extraordinary amount of things in his life but by decluttering his life and focussing on the things that needed to be done so he could be freed up to do the things he really wanted to do. There's a getting started series that's useful to consider.

So yes you can cut down on the amount of sleep you have; if you normally get 8 hours sleep a night and then one night you get 4 hours your body will deal with it and the quality of your sleep the next night will usually be better so that you can absorb the change. If you keep pushing you will adapt, a bit like lifting weights will make you stronger, but only to a point and sleep is really important to you. To continue with my example of exercise, if you train hard and lift heavy weights the growth happens after you've stopped lifting the weights, not while you're lifting those weights. 9 times out of 10 that's while you're sleeping. When you're injured or have an illness it's while you're sleeping that your body is at its most effective at repair. If you restrict the amount of time spent sleeping you're pushing yourself further and further and depleting your reserves to the point that you simply have nothing left and then as @John says:

your body will say, "OK, enough," and you'll fall asleep, right there, barrelling down the highway at 65 MPH.
You'll get a lot less done if you're dead.

Work to live, don't live to work.

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Jumping late into the bandwagon but would like to share my experience in doing this and got mentally ill. I got into a state where I am awake, but just glaring at the computer effectively doing nothing (spaced-out!) many times in a day.

The best times were when I got enough good night sleep, i.e., you will know this when you naturally wake up, but still feel "Oh, its still not the time of my alarm, let me sleep for some more time". Stop here and wake up at this point.

A quiet time is what you would need to be more productive, and be willing to let go other things and be focussed.

If all you need is to keep yourself awake without relating it much to effectiveness then you can try staying as late as possible and getting up as early as possible, but still you will have to pay the backlog on the weekends or holidays.

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When I was 22 and just graduated from college I had the same idea as you do now. As a workaholic who's passionate about his work (software development) and very determined about his goal, I would keep working until late night and get up very early. The average sleep I got was about 5 hours per day, EVERYDAY, for 5 years, even on weekends. There's always so much that I could do to make my projects better thus making more money.

For the first few years it was all good and rewarding because I was young and I had the power and energy to keep it going, even on very stressful times. But eventually I started noticing changes with regards to my body:

  1. I started going to doctors more often than my peers.
  2. My vision started to deteriorate, albeit slightly.
  3. I started losing hair.
  4. I started to forget stuff which shouldn't be an issue before.
  5. Last but the most important, when you sleep less for very long time, eventually you'll actually sleep less because it takes longer for you to fall asleep and you easily wake up.

So for a short answer, yes you can train your body to sleep less, but do make sure it's not very long as to years so you can easily recover. It may not be obvious but sleeping less than you body needs DOES undermine your health. However the amount of sleep everybody needs may vary because we are designed differently in genes.

For a long answer, no, sleeping less wouldn't let you get more things done in the long term. Everything has a price. It's actually against productivity rather than for it. When I look back how I went through these years in retrospect, I could have not pushed myself that hard but still accomplish the same results. Productivity is about getting the most out of time rather than getting the most time. Lots of people have got plenty of time in their life, even more than they need, still they blow it. In fact, when I was in college, some of the top performing students actually sleep more than the average.

So sleep as much as you want. Time enjoyed is NOT wasted. Sleep is beautiful. Don't waste it for some stupid things that you need done!

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet. 

--The Return of the King, Book VI, Chapter 6

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