What Life Is Like On 3 Hours Of Sleep A Night

Fact: Far too many Americans are sleep-deprived. Although many believe they're functioning just fine on less than the recommended seven-to-nine hours per night, there really are a select few among us (the "sleepless elite," as they've been called) who need only three to four hours of sleep to function. These people have become quite a focus of our curiosity ever since Ying Hui Fu, PhD, a professor at the University of California San Francisco, led a team in 2009 that discovered a genetic mutation that might explain why some people can get by with far less shut-eye than the rest of us. Despite growing interest, it's unclear exactly how many true "short sleepers" are out there — what we do know for sure is that these folks, who also tend to be upbeat and highly energetic in general, are rare. There are few studies about them in part because they're so hard to find. Still, we were able to track down one such sleeper, Hank Driskill, to find out what life is like on the sleepless side. What does he do with all the extra time? Does he ever wish for a normal schedule? Check out his answers below.
What's your normal sleeping schedule?
"Typically, I [go to] sleep after midnight or at 1 a.m., and I wake up around 4 or 4:30 a.m. I've been like this my whole life. Last night, I went to bed around 11 p.m. because my wife was tired, so I woke up at 2:45 a.m." What do you do with all that extra time?
"The most common thing I do is read. I read every comic Marvel and DC put out each week, so 30 to 40 comics a week; I have around 50,000 comic books. And I love to deep-dive into whatever topic is fascinating me at the moment, so I might be reading medical papers at 2 a.m. I read a book or two in a good week, and I'm currently watching 21 television shows, which I buy on iTunes. Before the internet, it was a lot of books and comic books, or finding out whatever was on the TV really late at night. I remember I saw The Exorcist on TV when I was eight and scared myself to death."
How do you think life would be different if you had to sleep a normal seven-to-nine hours?
"I definitely wouldn't have taken as many classes in school — I wouldn't have studied as many things or been as aggressive in graduate school. I ended up with two Bachelor's degrees (in computer science and astronomy), and in grad school I took all three of the entry-level graduate tracks as a first-year student, because I had the cycles to do all the work. I now have a MS/PhD in computer science."
What's the longest you can go without sleep?
"In grad school, I went five straight days without sleep. By that time, I was feeling pretty tired. I still only slept eight hours to catch up on the five missed days. But I can skip nights of sleep pretty regularly; I've done three to four days without sleep many times. A couple of weeks ago, Daredevil came out on Netflix, and I was so excited, I stayed up all night to watch it."

In grad school I went five straight days without sleep. By that time I was feeling pretty tired.

Are your sleep cycles a little different?
"When I sleep, I sleep super deeply. It takes me 30 seconds to sleep, like, Okay it's time for sleep. Click, and I'm out. It used to drive my wife crazy. You can shake me, and I won't wake up.
"When I was a little kid, we had a storm that blew out all the windows in the north end of my house, including my bedroom, and my parents came in and saw the rain pouring down on me. They cleaned me, changed my pajamas, put me in the living room, and I woke up a couple hours later, wondering how I ended up on the couch in the living room. I slept through the entire thing. "I also sleep so deeply that if I dream, I don't remember any of it. The only time I ever remember dreams is when I'm sick, because I don't sleep as well." What about napping?
"I rarely nap. It's happened, but I rarely feel the need. I have fallen asleep on occasion when I let myself get bored, but then it ruins my sleep that night, because I already got part of it out of the way." Do you ever wish you had a normal sleep cycle?
"I'm a pretty deep introvert to begin with, so I really like the 'me time' that this gives me. My day job requires me to be pretty extroverted, so I enjoy the extra hours just to recharge. I can wake up in the morning, and no one else in the house is moving until 5:30 or 6 a.m., and I can watch two TV shows before anyone else is moving. A long time ago, especially if I was traveling, I used to wake up and try to sleep some more, but then I would sleep fitfully and feel shitty because I slept too much. That's why I really love the internet now, because I can read and do other things at 3 a.m. I don't particularly like sleep, because it's just hours that I'm wasting."

More from Body

R29 Original Series