High-functioning 'short sleepers' make good entrepreneurs

Up to three percent of the population needs fewer than six hours of sleep each night to function well. Being highly productive and having plenty of time are advantages for an entrepreneur.

Photo illustration/Ron Nickel/Design Pics/Newscom
A man works on a computer late at night. Some people don't need much sleep to function at a high level, which can be an advantage for entrepreneurs.

The Wall Street Journal’s Melinda Black has an interesting piece in today’s edition entitled “The Sleepless Elite.” One to three percent of the population require less than six hours of sleep to function well. In fact, she points out that not only do these short sleepers function, but they are upbeat, tend to be thin and energetic.

Short sleeper go all out, all the time. “These people talk fast. They never stop. They’re always on the up side of life,” says Daniel J. Buysse, a psychiatrist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a past president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, a professional group.

Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Leonardo da Vinci were too busy to sleep much, according to historical accounts. Winston Churchill and Thomas Edison came close but they were also fond of taking naps, which may disqualify them as true short sleepers,” writes Black.

The short sleeper I knew was the late Ronald Yanke, who died a few years ago at age 68. Yanke was tall and thin, and constantly in motion. He could barely sit through a two-hour board meeting. Like the short sleepers Black mentions, Yanke was constantly upbeat and a serial entrepreneur. One of the three original investors in Micron Technology, Yanke owned two sawmills in Montana, a charter air service company, and a company that manufacturers firefighting equipment. He was also a rancher and owned vast amounts of timberland in the western United States as well as owning and developing a number of other real estate projects. Yanke also held significant ownership interests in a mechanical contracting firm, a manufactured housing firm and two banks.

His friend Jim Nelson said at Yanke’s funeral that Ron was the “hardest worker anyone had ever seen,” and “the hardest player anyone had ever seen.”

Another friend Tom Nickolson said Yanke’s only speed was peddle to the metal. Black explains that short sleepers “have a high tolerance for physical pain and psychological setbacks.” An especially good trait for entrepreneurs to have. “They encounter obstacles, they just pick themselves up and try again,” says Christopher Jones, a University of Utah neurologist and sleep scientist. I remember Ron Yanke saying “let’s do something, even if it’s wrong.”

For now, us normal sleepers can’t train ourselves to sleep less, but scientists are working on it. Human geneticist Ying-Hui Fu at the University of California-San Francisco says, “Everybody can use more waking hours, even if you just watch movies.”

Ron Yanke had better things to do than watch movies.

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