You will spend a third of your life asleep. And if you don’t, your waking hours will be of reduced quality and productivity.
For 99% of us, seven hours a night is biological necessity. For a select 1%, what Melinda Beck at the Wall Street Journal dubs the “Sleepless Elite,” less sleep equals more life.
So-called short sleepers operate with a kind of low-intensity mania which allows them to go to bed late and wake up early without needing a gallon of coffee to get through the day. And, as it turns out, the ability might be genetic.
“My long-term goal is to someday learn enough so we can manipulate the sleep pathways without damaging our health,” says human geneticist Ying-Hui Fu at the University of California-San Francisco. “Everybody can use more waking hours, even if you just watch movies.”
Dr. Fu was part of a research team that discovered a gene variation, hDEC2, in a pair of short sleepers in 2009. They were studying extreme early birds when they when they noticed that two of their subjects, a mother and daughter, got up naturally about 4 a.m. but also went to bed past midnight.
Genetic analyses spotted one gene variation common to them both. The scientists were able to replicate the gene variation in a strain of mice and found that the mice needed less sleep than usual, too.
Dr. Fu’s research is a reason for excitement because the goal is not just to locate the gene, but to find a way to manipulate sleep pathways safely. For those of us already alive, that means there might be better, safer, more effective stimulants in the future.
For those not yet born, genetic engineering may enable future generations to spend less time sawing logs and more time enjoying life. More life! Less sleep! It’s like a longevity enhancement that does nothing to extend your time alive, but instead maximizes your use of that time.
But how do short sleepers use their time? This, my fine friends, is where the real benefits of whatever genetic magic short sleepers possess comes into focus…
Kyle Munkittrick, IEET Program Director: Envisioning the Future, is a recent graduate of New York University, where he received his Master's in bioethics and critical theory.