Ask LH: How Can I Get By With Less Sleep?

Ask LH: How Can I Get By With Less Sleep?

Dear Lifehacker, How can I gain more hours in the day by sleeping less, without any hideous side-effects? Since I was a kid I’ve always felt that sleeping, thought necessary, was time that could be spent in more fulfilling ways. We exist for only a blink of an eye, and every moment counts, so I would rather spend those six hours a day on something else instead of inert in a bed. What can a person legally and safely do to massively reduce, or even eliminate, the need for sleep? Thanks, Sleep Skimper

Sleep picture from Shutterstock

Hi Sleep Skimper,

Bad news: you can’t. Sleep is vital to your health — a point we’ve made countless times here at Lifehacker. You won’t get more done by cutting back on sleep; you’ll get less done, because you’ll be exhausted. In this respect, you can’t fight biology.

The amount of sleep each individual needs varies, but you need regular sleep, ideally at the same time of day. If you want to maximise your efficiency, the best thing you can do is establish a really regular sleep routine and ensure you wake up naturally.

Trying to minimise sleep will be the ruin of you. If you want proof, check out Kotaku editor Mark Serrels’ polyphasic sleep experiment, which was trying to achieve exactly the goal you described, by sleeping as little as possible. Mark is as strong-willed an individual as you will ever hope to meet, and within a week he was a gibbering loon losing track of large chunks of his life. It simply doesn’t work.

Get the sleep you need, make the most of your waking hours, and realise that both matter. Otherwise that ‘blink of an eye’ that is your life is likely to be even shorter.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I cant understand why on earth you would want reduce the amount of time sleeping. Just seems stupid. From my perspective, you only appreciate sleep when it is taken away from you. Try having a new born to look after then tell me that your time is better spent doing stuff other than sleeping.

    • We sleep because we have to. What if we didn’t have to? If there was some “miracle” drug or medical procedure that removed the need for sleep, and had no or tolerable side effects, would you take it? Baby or not, that’s at least six extra hours in the day (or night, as would most probably be the case) for living! Me, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

      • I dunno, as much as I’d like extra time in the day, I really like sleeping! I adore that moment on Saturday or Sunday mornings when I wake up at 6am and think “Yes! I get to go back to sleep!” and then snooze for another hour or so.

  • Hey guys,
    First time typing up a comment, so please be nice~

    Sleeping is great, and I know that there are plenty of side-effects to sleeping less (especially in a long-term).

    I was averaging 5 hours of sleep per day last 2 years (except for Weekends), and that became my sleeping pattern. I was also a contractor, so I was driving around 16 hours per day, and carry out manual labor. (Yea, my life expectancy is probably reduced). During Christmas period (Nov-Dec), my sleeping average was reduced to 3 hours per day, 6 days a week.

    I’m not saying I like it, but family and work commitments forces me living like this, and no there wasn’t anything I can do as I was still under the care of my parents. (Now, please don’t talk bad about my family).

    @Sleep Skimmer, It is legally possible, but is it safe? Probaby not….
    What were you planning to do in the middle of the night anyway?
    Everything is closed in Australia~ I wouldn’t say spending time on-line would be making things count

  • The comments so far are missing the spirit of the question. Is it possible to sleep a lot less, or not at all, with no or minimal side effects? Having a baby in the house causes less sleep, no doubt. But that comes at the cost of tiredness and fatigue. I saw a Michael Mosley documentary about sleep, and he featured a guy who only slept for a couple hours a day and was fully functional. He was taking a (legal in Australia, AFAIK) drug call modafinil ( The wikipedia page has a nasty list of side effects for that particular drug, but there could be other (legal, safer) drugs that I’m not aware of.

    For the record, I am the “Sleep Skimper” who asked the question.

    • Modafinil as far as I can see isn’t a restricted drug, but it would require a prescription and you might be rather hard pressed to find a doctor willing to write one out for you. Not to mention that as a private script (only available on the PBS for Narcolepsy), you’d be looking at somewhere in the vicinity of $350 for a two month supply.

      It should be noted that Serrel’s experiment in polyphasic sleep is at the extreme end of the spectrum, and failure on his attempt does not necessarily mean that it is impossible to do (just as his assumed inability to do a clean and jerk of 200kg would not necessarily mean that it is impossible to do).

      There are a few other alternatives, ranging from staying awake for 20 hours, sleeping 8 (though it does lead to an erratic schedule when you cycle into daytime sleep); or sleeping less at night and taking naps through the day. Tim Ferris’ 4 Hour Body has two chapters on sleep, one of which deals with polyphasic sleep.

      • I was told this is the MBA drug being used by execs and those wanting to be execs in Sydney. They could afford it.

        I also recon this would be the perfect travel drug so you don’t have to deal with jet lag.

    • haha, yea my thought exactly the same XD.

      Personally, I think paying to sleep less is kinda lame. I mean, if you have that extra money, you can probably use it to enhance your life experience while you are awake by doing more interesting things.

      In the short run, (let’s say you want to spend more time on a holiday exploring), then I would suggest stuff like powernaps, grab some more vitamins pills, energy drinks, coffee and so on… but they’re useless and dangerous if you use it in the long run.

  • I feel the same way about sleep. I very rarely recall my dreams. I close my eyes because I know I should go to sleep. 6 hours later I’d wake up feeling about the same and the time in between was just a blank. In high school I decided I try different things. Slept 6 hours, wake up sleep 2 more to get the “needed” 8 hours – have a headache all day. So I decided to cut back. Over about 6 months got it down to 3 hrs a night. I’d meditate for 2 x 15 mins stretches in the evening and was fine. Slept 3 hrs a night for 2 years. Then decided to test my boundaries. Dropped it 2.5 hours and it was not good. Could tell I was borderline hallucinating. Went back up to 3 hrs for another couple years. I now feel like I need my 6 hrs a night so I do that. Have worked with a guy who always slept 3 hrs a night and was also fully lucid and brilliant.

    • Yea, everyone’s sleeping cycle is different. Some people “need” to sleep 10 hours, some can get by with 8, and yet there are people who “can’t:” sleep more than 6.

      Sadly/ Luckily, I can get by with 5.5 as well. I’m not sure if it’s “good” for my health in the long run though XD.

      I also had a look at my sleeping patterns, and I don’t have a “sleeping cycle” either… My “cycle” is straight to Deep sleep for 3 hours, then the rest of the night is just light sleep.

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