Why Do Some People Need More Sleep Than Others?

Why is it that some people can get by on just four hours of sleep a night and others need at least 10? Varying needs for sleep are likely genetic and approximately 2 percent of the population need at least 10 hours of sleep to get by.

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Society seems to believe that if you sleep more than eight hours you are lazy. However, there are many of us who simply wouldn’t survive on just eight hours a night. I am one of those. I typically sleep 10 or more hours a night, and I’m usually in bed for about 12 hours or more a night. I’ve always needed more sleep. Growing up I could sleep late even after going to bed early. Mornings were never my friend, but I wasn’t really a night owl either. If I did stay up really late I would sleep into the afternoon. I’m still that way. I can force myself to wake up with less than 10 hours of sleep but it’s not easy and I don’t perform particularly well when I do so.

Why do some of us need more sleep?

Why do I need so much sleep? I sleep longer for the same reason that some people can be perfectly alert and chipper on just four hours of sleep a night. It’s genetic. Ying-Hui Fu, PhD, isolated the gene mutation that she believes is responsible for those who can easily get by on just four hours of sleep a night. While they haven’t isolated exactly why some of us need 10 or more hours of sleep, there is a name for it. The term is “long sleepers,” and we make up approximately 2 percent of the population. Although it’s referred to as a disorder, there are no negative side effects, unless we don’t get the 10 to 12 hours of sleep our bodies crave. Who knows, maybe one day they’ll isolate a gene mutation that explains my excessive need to sleep. Long sleeping has been correlated to the introverted personality type. Introverts are easily tired out by interacting with others; so, it’s possible that we just need more sleep to handle those interactions. The American Sleep Association advises that we not fight our need for sleep as doing so may cause more issues. Rather we should do our best to live with it.

What can we do about it?

There’s not much we can do about our need for more sleep since it is hardwired. however, you do have control over your sleep schedule. By going to bed at the same time each night and having a set wake time each morning you can help your body learn to expect the pattern. Our biological clocks (yes, there are more than one) work on patterns and when we go to bed or get up at different times we are messing with those patterns. The best thing you can do is have a set bedtime ritual and go to bed at the same time, and use an alarm to wake you up at the same time. Your body learns these patterns and even if you struggle to fall asleep and lay in bed reading for a while it helps your body learn and adjust to the pattern. Speaking of reading, if you must read in bed get a tablet and set the brightness to low, with white text on a black background. This not only reduces the lighting in your bedroom, it reduces the flicker associated with electronic devices making it easier to fall asleep. You may also want to try taking melatonin two hours before your set bedtime to help your brain send the proper “it’s time to go to sleep” signals to your body. If you haven’t always had a need for long sleep, but developed it later in life you should talk to your doctor so that they can check you for other sleep disorders. Long sleep isn’t typically found with other sleep disorders, but the need for excessive sleep developed later in life may be a sign of other problems. Don’t feel bad about needing more sleep than average. There’s a reason they call it average, our need for long sleep just balances out those folks who can get by on four hours. We simply have to work with what we are given and make the best use of the time when we are awake.