Photographed by Ben Ritter.
Are you tired right now? Probably. We Americans are a sleepy bunch: We sleep an average of 6.8 hours per night, with 40% of us missing the recommended seven-hours-per-night minimum. (It's probably not a coincidence that the average worker spends some $1,100 per year on coffee.)
If you always feel tired, prepare to also feel jealous: Apparently, a few of us are actually hardwired to function on little sleep. A new study published last week in the journal Sleep reveals a genetic mutation that allows those who carry it to function normally on fewer than six hours per night. That doesn't mean inching through the day on a series of triple-shot lattes, but rather feeling wakeful and alert despite only getting a few ZZZs.
To prove the existence of these superhumans, a team of researchers from universities in the U.S., Brazil, and Turkey found 100 healthy twin pairs (59 identical and 41 fraternal); within each pair, both twins were the same sex. The researchers measured how long the twins slept at night at home by tracking each of their movements for seven to eight nights. The researchers then evaluated the twins' sleeping patterns in a sleep lab, tracking how they reacted to 38 hours without sleep by testing their cognitive functioning every two hours during sleep deprivation and then measuring how long each twin slept in recovery.
The research team discovered that those participants who carried a genetic variant called "p.Tyr362His" slept five hours per night on average, while their non-carrier twins slept just over six hours a night. Twins with the mutation made 40% fewer errors on cognitive functioning tests during sleep deprivation and slept for only eight hours following that ordeal (compare that with the non-carrier twins' post-deprivation sleep time of nine and a half hours).
Who wouldn't want better mental function without the snooze? Sadly, we're not all superhumans. But, although we sleep-mortals may not experience alertness-sans-sleep naturally, we can still chase it in a cup of joe. Or, there's always the option of going to bed seven to nine hours before our wake-up call — never give up on the dream, right?