A good question - there's quite a bit of science that suggests the answer is "NO", but I'll get to that in a little bit. First let's talk about different things people are trying to get by on less sleep.
First, there's the class of people who, by increasing their sleep quality, can get by with less time in bed:
- People with sleep disorders may spend a lot of time in bed getting very poor sleep. By solving the disorder these people may find that they actually need less time asleep. For example, an apneac may spend 10 hours a night in bed before getting treatment, but only need 8 hours a night while on CPAP.
- Meditation or yoga can reduce stress and improve sleep quality, but under most circumstances would not be regarded as a replacement for any amount of sleep. But the other potential benefits of both are well worth giving them a try.
Then, there are the sleep hackers, who are trying all sorts of different things (from the everyday to the insane). Here are a few examples of sleep hacks on the two extremes...
- Everyday hacking - Artificial methods, such as caffeine or modafinil may reduce apparent sleep need. Both are considered relatively safe, especially caffeine, but the mechanisms of action for these substances are still not fully understood.
- Insane hacking - Polyphasic sleep is an interesting potential method for reducing sleep time, but is not well studied, and could be very dangerous, particularly given the extreme amounts of sleep deprivation required. However, bi-phasic sleep may allow you to get less sleep at night by taking a nap in the afternoon. This solution naturally fits with what we expect in terms of human circadian rhythms and reflects the actual sleep patterns of people in many cultures (ie, the siesta).
Let's talk about science
There is no scientifically validated natural way to actually reduce the sleep need of a healthy individual. There may be ways to reduce the amount sleep you get, but that is not the same as reducing the amount of sleep you need. Here are a few reasons for why you should just get enough sleep:
- Sleep deprivation of just 24 hours can leave one mentally equivalent to being legally drunk. Reducing the amount of sleep we get may increase the risks of poor health and accidents on the road and in the workplace.
- Lack of sleep has also been connected to lower grades, ie - sleep loss can make you dumb.
- It has been shown that sleep deprived people can feel like they're doing great, but objectively perform very poorly.
- Sufficient sleep is associated with elevated levels of alertness, creativity, productivity, positive mood, and even libido.
We talk a lot about trying to get less sleep but with better sleep quality, but we forget about the corollary. Instead of thinking about how long we're awake, let's start thinking about the quality of the time when we're awake.