Question: Born at midnight, of course (my special wake up time). As far back as I can remember, sleeping before 1 am was impossible. I especially remember my mom having a difficult time getting me to sleep in my first few weeks of school. I remember that first night, having to go to bed much earlier, and feeling bitter and helpless. I have never in my life been able to get decent sleep before 2 am, and I get my best rest if I can go to sleep at 4am and get up at noon. Most of my life (pushing 60 now) I have lived on less than 5 hours sleep, often on 3 or 4 and if I have to wake especially early for meetings, etc., then 1 or 2 hours.
Seems to be familial: Dad & one brother always up at 3am. One brother like me, bed at 3 am. My mom & one other brother, quite normal. My daughter, quite normal. Since young adults tend to like to stay up late, my social life never suffered much, but these days family would like to see me sometimes.I am sharing here because I am now experiencing something very new. Before the last 2 years, when people said they were tired because they’d slept too little, I assumed they meant they felt sleepy. This was how I felt. I could function, work, remain active, & pursue an academic career (PhD) on an average of 4 hours of sleep every 24. But after menopause, I now understand that when people say they are tired because of too little sleep, they mean just that: physical exhaustion.With this newfound exhaustion from too little sleep, my
sleep time has gone completely awry. In the past, I could always adjust somewhat to return to my normal pattern by staying up 24-36 hours. But now I am too exhausted to stay up for 24 hours or more, & so, right now, in the midst of grading finals, I’m on a ridiculous schedule: up until 2pm, and sleeping until 10pm–and even with 8 hours sleep, this feels tiring and just too weird. But I no longer have that great intellectual energy I once had, and readjusting my pattern would require no academic work for 2 or 3 days so I can reset through not sleeping for a couple of days. After reading some of the comments here, I think I’ve been very lucky. I have always been able to get up and function on even as little as 2 hours sleep. But aging is changing my luck.

Answer: Elizabeth, thanks for sharing your story and your thoughts. It’s an interesting point you hit on in the differences between the meaning of “tired” and “sleepy”. Their meaning in everyday conversation blends and merges, but really they can mean very different things. Being aware of these differences is important in understanding the subjective nature of how we feel with regards to fatigue.You certainly do seem to have been on the lucky end of the sleep need spectrum, and I hope you’re able to adjust well to your body’s new demands. Stay tuned for some upcoming articles on circadian rhythms and adjusting your biological clock to help sleep at the time you need to. If your interested in seeing these articles when they come out, you can follow our updates here on our blog page.

Thanks for your question and good luck,
Kevin