Feature Archive

Undercover Investigation

How You Sleep Offers Clues to How You Live

By Jeanie Lerche Davis
WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Charlotte Grayson

The night owl burns the midnight oil. The lark is yawning at 9:30 p.m. These aren't just stereotypes -- they are real scenarios. Our internal body clock sets our natural sleep schedule.

"Every person's body clock does seem to have a natural setting," says Meir Kryger, MD, director of the Sleep Disorders Centre at St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre at the University of Manitoba.

"You can try to change it," he tells WebMD. "But you can't really fight your biology."

We also have a 'sleep number' -- the number of optimal hours of sleep we need nightly, he explains. "People often boast about getting by on four, five, or six hours of sleep. Donald Trump says he gets by on four hours a night. That's what they want you to believe."

But the truth is most adults need about seven to eight hours of sleep every day to function optimally. When they scrimp on sleep, that number goes up -- at least, temporarily. Few people can adapt to getting less sleep than they need.

And, by and large, Americans are scrimping. In this year's annual Sleep in America Poll, researchers at the National Sleep Foundation divided American adults into five distinct sleep profiles based on their sleeping habits. More than half (52%) fell into the "not so good" sleeper profiles.

Owl-like tendencies often start during teen years, Kryger explains. "Kids tend to go to bed late, get up late, and for some people that continues into adulthood. Some owls seem to naturally switch back and become 'more normal' as they get older. For the others, it can become a big problem: The body isn't ready for bed until 2 a.m., but the job starts at 8 a.m."