Short Sleep Syndrome: Definition, Causes & Examples


In order for us to properly function and perform to the best of our abilities at all times, good sleep is one of life’s necessities. In fact, sleep is closely linked to our overall well-being, and we’re often encouraged to get as much quality sleep as we can. However, some may not be able to do so, due to conditions such as the short sleep syndrome (SSS), which, although very rare, impacting a mere 1% of adults, likely affects someone you know.

What Is Short Sleep Syndrome?

Understanding what this presumably genetic sleep condition is and how it impacts you is incredibly important. A person with this syndrome is typically defined as someone who can get by on minimal sleep, usually six hours per night or less, and sometimes as little as four hours of sleep. While it’s true there are people who need less sleep than others to function, many will find short sleeping quite problematic.

People with SSS are generally able to function fine on less sleep than most, without requiring naps to make up for their lack of shut-eye. As this is a naturally occurring state, people affected by it differ from those who restrict their amount of sleep on their own, and their sleep habits are more or less the same each night, even on weekends or holidays, when they would normally be able to sleep in.

Did You know: Most people today are chronically sleep deprived, which can lead to long-term health consequences, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, metabolic problems, and a weakened immune system.

Characteristics of Short Sleepers

It’s important to try to understand the characteristics and symptoms of this unique condition. While in most cases, someone who is a short sleeper will typically be able to function as normal in our day-to-day activities and tasks and perform to their optimum level at school or work, some people might suffer from a sleep problem or disorder characterized by a lack of sleep. In these cases, there are certain symptoms to look out for, such as:

  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Wondering why you’re waking up tired
  • Feeling fatigued throughout the day
  • Difficulty staying asleep during the night
  • Experiencing wakefulness over the course of the night

Around 30% of Americans consider themselves to be fine on less than 7 hours of sleep per night, but scientists believe that the number of people who don’t need sleep is actually much smaller, and those who are in denial about their sleep problems could be severely affecting their health, which is why understanding what you can do when you are unable to sleep is very important.

Why Do Some People Need Less Sleep?

While they occupy a very low percentage of the population, it’s undeniably true that there are people out there who simply need less sleep than the rest of us, some of them even being well-known names like Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Margaret Thatcher, and Martha Stewart. So, what is the reason for short sleep? Scientists believe that this sleep condition occurs due to a gene mutation that allows those who possess this gene to match or sometimes even outperform others with less sleep than them.

On the other hand, it’s certainly true that a lot of people don’t sleep well at night for a variety of reasons, which is why looking into solutions for calming anxiety at night can be helpful. However, the short sleep gene has fascinated scientists for years, and after a decade of research and study experts have even found a second ‘short sleep’ gene, which has confirmed that the condition is often present among multiple family members, but also hinted that there could well be other causes of SSS.

Key Takeaways

Short sleep defines regular sleeping patterns of fewer than 6 hours per night.
People with SSS can function at a normal level with significantly less sleep than other people.
Chronically sleep-deprived people risk long-term health consequences, such as cardiovascular disease or a weakened immune system.
People often misidentify disordered sleeping as short sleeping.

Short Sleeper Syndrome vs. Disordered Sleep

It’s important to understand that there’s a difference between SSS and disordered sleep, as people experiencing SSS will naturally require less sleep, and their day-to-day activities will not be limited by their lack of sleep. If you’re wondering “Why do I sleep so little,” and you’re not able to function well in the daytime as a result, you likely have a sleeping disorder, which can be dealt with by keeping a sleep diary, or coming up with a sleep mantra to improve your ability to fall asleep and get more rest.

However, as disordered sleep can be very detrimental to the way you live your life, you should try to get treatment for it. There are a number of factors that can help with this, such as sleep therapy, hybrid mattresses, and smart beds.

How to Find Out Which Category You Belong In

If you’re experiencing a lack of sleep that could be the result of both short sleep and a sleep disorder, you can determine which category you actually fall into by consulting a sleep specialist.  First off, you should be keeping a journal of your sleep hygiene, whether you’re well-rested, and any patterns that may occur. You need to know what symptoms if any, you’re presenting, and whether they relate to SSS, or to sleeping disorders.

Once you’ve done some homework and have an idea of what you may be dealing with, you can meet with a sleep expert to try to determine which of the two categories you fall into. If you’re one of those people who don’t sleep enough and feel tired, fatigued, or run down, as a result, the odds are that you probably have some kind of sleep disorder that needs treatment, such as insomnia or sleep apnea.


Quality sleep is vital for feeling rested and refreshed. However, this is a fascinating process, as those with genetic SSS can feel more rested and functional on less than six hours of sleep than a non-short sleeper may feel on eight hours.

However, since there are those who don’t naturally experience short sleeping, but restrict the amount of sleep for other reasons, it’s important to determine whether you’re a naturally short sleeper or you have a sleeping disorder, as the latter can seriously impact your life and overall health.


What causes short sleeping?

Short sleeping is believed to be caused by a gene mutation, but there are external factors that can impact someone’s circadian rhythm and cause them to sleep less as well, although this wouldn’t fall under the category of naturally short sleeping.

Is short sleeping bad?

If it occurs naturally, short sleeping is not bad. However, if you deliberately shorten your sleep, this can lead to fatigue and tiredness, as well as reduced motor skills and cognitive functions in day-to-day activities.

How rare is short sleep syndrome?

Although around 30% of Americans claim to only need six hours of sleep or less, short sleep syndrome is actually incredibly rare, actually affecting around 10% of Americans. Globally, only around 1% of the population are classified as short sleepers.


I've loved writing since I can remember, and back in high school, I started loving psychology as well. So I majored in it while dabbling in spirituality and yoga on the side.

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