Basic Question: What about happen if scientists discovered a way to prevent or dramatically reduce our need for sleep?

Let's say we have a normal earth with current technology, but with one major difference. Scientists have found a way to condense the need to sleep from the usual 8+ hours to an average 30 minutes a day without any negative side effects of sleep-deprivation. (Average meaning they can sleep for an hour every other day and be fine. Sleep cannot be delayed for more than a week.) Instead of spending 56 hours a week sleeping, it's reduced to a less than 4 hours.

Based on this question, it seems the general idea is that it would lead to a dramatic increase in the service industry, as they would have to be available to cater to people who are now awake almost 24/7. But what happens to the rest of the people or jobs that usually have set cycles that are related to sleep cycles?

Specific Focus: How do the following change?

The work day: If people usually work 40 hours but now have more time to offer, they're probably going to work more, but there isn't a need for sleep to break the cycle of work. How long would people work in a single sitting and what would the pattern be? (IE: Why not work 16 hours a day, with 30 minute breaks every 4 hours? Is that too much? Would 12 hours a day be better?)

Similarly, what would happen to schooling? Would the curriculum be condensed into less time where people can graduate regularly within 3 years? Does school still start at 8 am and end early?

Why I'm asking this:

I'm trying to understand the limits of how much work and studying can be done in a day before you can't do much more, if you assume sleep isn't much of a factor. With the additional time to be productive, I would assume everything knowledge/technology based is accelerated. Is there another limiting factor to a human's capacity to be productive I am missing that I should consider?

EDIT: based on the comments with CortAmmon

You can assume that all needs for breaks and other relaxation can be accommodated within the 30 minutes of sleeping a day. So if you feel tired or like you need to relax, a simple 5 minute nap will suffice. So long as you get an average of 30 minutes at any point during the day, you can function like normal (your body feels well rested, you are mentally alter, etc.) so long as no other factors affect you.

  • $\begingroup$ I think you will find that, in the answers, it is hard to single out just sleep as something to affect, without second order effects stepping in. There are many forms of relaxation which humans rely on, and science understands frustratingly little about them. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 31, 2016 at 18:14
  • $\begingroup$ @cortammon So is there just a need for relaxation that must be accommodated for people to remain capable of efficient production? I'm essentially trying to create a community that functions almost 24/7. Would it help if I changed the question more to reflect that? I just didn't want it to be too broad. $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2016 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ There is a need for relaxation at many levels, sleep being one. If you find a way to remove the need for sleep, using some technology to avoid the side effects, you may find that there were lessers relaxations (like break times) which were also important, and become even more important now that they can't sleep things off. It does start to point at a philosophical limit. What does it mean to be productive? If I stare at the screen for 5 minutes, unmoving while I think, and then write down a million dollar idea, is it any less productive than if I shut my eyes for 5 minutes, before writing? $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Mar 31, 2016 at 21:20
  • $\begingroup$ @CortAmmon I'll adjust the question then, because that's still part of what I'm trying to eliminate. $\endgroup$ Mar 31, 2016 at 21:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are you willing to have a society which accomplishes less, in exchange for not sleeping, rather than more? There's actually some very rational reasons why the requirement to not sleep can generate less optimal results than cases where one has the option to sleep, but doesn't always need to. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 1, 2016 at 2:37

1 Answer 1


Some studies have already shown that an 8 hour work day is too long, and that people lose focus after around 6.

Once you change our brain chemistry so radically as to need a fraction of the sleep though, who knows how we might react?

Many businesses will want to reduce costs by firing the night shift and just having one set of employees for longer hours (or something similar). It will certainly lead to some very interesting social problems until we can find a balance.

So the answer is that regardless of what we want, the reality of what we will have to work will be driven by economic demand, and what employers require from us.

How long people have to work (and when) will also lead a bit to the adjustment of school / day care hours. And as for higher education, students in some fields already sleep only 3-4 hours a night because of the amount of homework and studying they have to get done. I can't see that changing any time soon.


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