[Neurologists Chris Jones and Ying-Hui Fu] had been studying advanced sleep-phase syndrome, thought to be a rare type of “morning lark.” These were people who would fall asleep by 7 p.m. — no matter how hard they tried to stay awake — and get up extremely early, say by 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. A gene appeared to be responsible for that unusual circadian rhythm, and the team published a number of papers on it.
“Nobody had any idea that our sleep actually can be regulated by genetics until we published the first paper,” Fu said.
As research progressed, the team discovered there were also some positive personality characteristics that came along with the ability to successfully sleep for only five hours. Many short sleepers were ambitious, type A personalities, but also incredibly positive, outgoing and optimistic.
“They were not just awake, they were driven. It was torture for them to do nothing,” Jones said. “They like to run marathons — many of our natural short sleepers ran marathons — including mountain marathons where you go straight up. One of them decided he was going to build a violin, and he did.
“The drive they have is physical, but also psychological: ‘I’m gonna do this.’ It’s really quite remarkable,” Jones added.