How to Sleep Less

How to Sleep Less

If you’re sleeping more than 7-8 hours a night and you’re not an infant, you’re probably sleeping too much (my army of out-of-work attorneys just told me to tell you I’m not a doctor, just so you know). The following article will share some background and tips on how to sleep less.

Sleepy Koala


I know, I know, most people say they need more sleep. Every day, millions of people grumble, wishing they could nuzzle their pillow a bit longer. Thousands of news stories and hundreds of remedies promise better sleep. Insomnia lurks like a thief, stealing sleep by night, turning its victim into a morning zombie, muttering for blankets instead of brains. Yet, for some people out there, myself included, the problem is the opposite.

Getting sleep is easy, but waking up is a bitch.

The problem is particularly acute when you work in the afternoon or on the dreaded night shift. For me, this began when I started college. I took late morning/afternoon classes and worked evenings. Somehow, I started snoozing about ten hours a night, and for the longest time, even if I set an alarm or two, I just kept sleeping.

Even though I stayed reasonably active, I couldn’t drag myself out of bed. Working, hiking, or traveling, my body just wanted to sleep. When I arrived in Korea, between the jetlag and mental overload, I slept about twelve hours a night.

At this point, many of you probably think I’m bat-shit crazy for talking about getting too much sleep, but understand something: I didn’t need the rest, I usually felt drained, and those lost hours just pissed me off. They still do. Two lost hours a day X 365 days = 730 lost hours, or about 30 days per year. That’s like being in a coma for one month out of the year. Jumping jujubes!

Even worse, according to a study from University of California San Diego, consistently getting more than eight hours or less than four hours can increase risk of premature death.

So, too much sleep not only makes you a lazy bum but will probably kill you.


How to Sleep Less

One day, as I thought about all the things I wanted to do, I realized I’d have to start waking up earlier and sleeping less. I read what I could find on the subject and tried a few experiments and finally found a few effective methods. Note that this section is not about getting up early, but about sleeping less. However, it is easier to sleep less if you get up early. Here’s what worked for me.

Morning Routine

I’ve found building a morning routine the most effective way to get out of bed. For me, it’s simply having a reason to peel myself off my mattress. I know I have things to do, and if I keep sleeping, they won’t get done. I usually make a to-do list before going to bed. When I wake up, I make coffee, write a lengthy journal entry, then initiate a relentless frontal attack on the to-do list. In two hours I’ve finished what used to take four. Email is never part of this routine.

Food Intake

I’m not sure why, but eating less throughout the day and never before bed has really helped. Here in Korea, the food is generally healthier than in the States and the portions are smaller. I’ve never struggled with my weight, but I used to overeat (I blame the buffet mentality: in order to get your money’s worth, eat until your belly sticks out).

When I arrived 5 months ago, I could demolish two 180g orders of samgyeopsal, but now I’m struggling at about 150g. When I decided to get less sleep, I stopped eating big meals before bed, choosing instead to have a ridiculous breakfast and/or lunch and a light snack in the evening.

Move the Damn Alarm Clock

When I realized that I could spend three hours slapping the snooze button, I unplugged the alarm clock, beat myself over the head with it, and put the accursed thing on the other side of the room.

I’m an unrepentant snoozer, and if I can reach it, I’ll deal with three hours of klaxonic dreams, but when I have to get out of bed and stagger across the room, the hardest part is over: I’m out of my cozy bed and my feet are flat on the floor.


Drinking a couple glasses of water right after waking, even before coffee, seems to help. I don’t know why. Maybe it flushes out toxins. Maybe it acts as a catalyst for enzymes. Maybe it’s just darn refreshing. Whatever.

Quality not Quantity

Four hours of great sleep beats ten hours of so-so sleep any day. Millions of words have been written about how to get better sleep and they’re beyond the scope of this article. Routine, food, moving the alarm clock, and hydration are most effective for me, but here’s a recap of common sleeping tips:

  • Aim for less than eight hours of sleep.
  • Get some physical activity during the day.
  • Keep the bedroom temperature cool.
  • Have a consistent bed time.
  • Take short (less than 30 minute) afternoon naps.
  • Only use the bedroom for sleeping and sex.
  • Stop watching television (actually, I’m throwing this in there just because I can. But it should help).
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Get enough sunlight, especially first thing in the morning.

As every person is different, and all this is just my personal experience, opinion, and conjecture, your mileage will vary. If you find any of these tips useful, have your own tips, or just want to tell me I’m a charlatan quack, please, leave a comment or drop me a line, and I’ll get back to you, unless you call me a quack. Then I’ll just beat you with my alarm clock.

photo credit: defrostca

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Anonymous August 1, 2011, 12:48 am

    Hey Eric, thanks for your comment. You went way back in the archives! 

    Almost two years later, I’ve (mostly) followed my advice and learned to do quite well on about 7 hours of quality sleep per night. You didn’t mention it, but I find if I drink more than a couple cups of coffee during the day I too have a hard time getting out of bed.