While the anticipation of crawling into bed and getting some much-needed sleep is a common feeling, there is often a part of us that wishes we needed less of this essential habit. Many individuals have dreamed of somehow having more hours in the day.
At times, it may seem that the easiest way to add time to our lives would be to cut back on sleep. However, experts don’t always agree on the ideal amount of sleep, and it can be challenging to find consistent information. Is six hours of sleep enough? Or is seven hours the magic number? Let’s explore what the evidence and experts have to say.
Is Six Hours of Sleep Enough?
Experts generally recommend that adults get at least seven hours of sleep each night on average, which puts six hours of sleep just outside the optimal range. While it’s possible for some individuals to function with only six hours of sleep, it’s a rarity. The amount of sleep needed varies greatly from person to person, as everyone has unique sleep requirements.
The Short Sleep Gene: There are a fortunate few known as natural short sleepers who possess a gene mutation that allows them to function well on only four to six hours of sleep per day. These individuals can thrive on less sleep without experiencing any negative effects. This is different from insomnia, as natural short sleepers don’t struggle with falling asleep and report good sleep quality.
Recommended Hours of Sleep by Age: Our sleep needs change as we grow from infancy to adulthood. Babies require a substantial amount of sleep in their first year, but the required hours steadily decrease as we age. Here’s a breakdown of the recommended sleep durations based on age:
- Newborns (4 to 12 months): 12 to 16 hours a day
- Children (1 to 2 years old): 11 to 14 hours a day
- Children (3 to 5 years old): 10 to 13 hours a day
- Children (6 to 12 years old): 9 to 12 hours a day
- Teens (13 to 18 years old): 8 to 10 hours a day
- Adults (18 years or older): 7 to 8 hours a day
As you can see, the minimum recommended sleep duration on that list is seven hours. But what happens if you consistently get less than that?
Sleep Deprivation: The Side Effects of Not Getting Enough Sleep
When you deprive yourself of sufficient sleep, your body sends signals to let you know. Sleep is not merely a period of inactivity; it’s a crucial time when your body engages in various essential tasks. During sleep, your brain consolidates memories, processes information, and eliminates waste products. Your body also repairs tissues, produces hormones, and strengthens the immune system.
Without the right amount of quality sleep, you may experience the following symptoms:
- Behavioral changes
- Difficulty solving problems
- Emotional instability
- Excessive drowsiness
- Learning difficulties
- Memory lapses
- Slow reaction time
- Slow completion of tasks
- Trouble focusing
- Trouble making decisions
Moreover, sleep deprivation has been linked to mental health disorders and physical health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Sleep Debt: When you consistently don’t get enough sleep, you start accumulating sleep debt. For example, if you consistently sleep six hours instead of the recommended eight hours for five days in a week, you would accumulate 10 hours of sleep debt. As your sleep debt increases, your body and brain begin to feel the effects. You can “pay down” your sleep debt by obtaining extra sleep whenever possible and ensuring you get enough sleep each night.
Why Most of Us Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep?
In many cases, good sleep becomes the first casualty during stressful situations or life changes. Anxiety and depression can also interfere with sleep by causing racing thoughts and difficulty relaxing. Medical conditions such as sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome can disrupt sleep, and poor sleep habits like late-night TV watching or using electronic devices in bed can make it challenging to fall asleep.
Certain groups of people are at a higher risk of sleep deprivation, including those who:
- Abuse alcohol and drugs
- Care for elderly parents
- Work night shifts or have irregular work schedules
- Have demanding jobs
- Have young children
- Travel frequently for work
- Take medications that can disrupt sleep
- Work long hours
Of course, there are other reasons why individuals may struggle to get the right amount of sleep. The precious hours before bed may be the only time they have to do what they enjoy, or they may consistently experience a surge of energy when they should be winding down. If you find it challenging to get enough sleep, rest assured that you’re not alone.
How to Improve Your Sleep Quality?
Regardless of your specific sleep needs, it’s crucial to consistently get the recommended amount of sleep at a fixed time each night, following a regular sleep schedule, for optimal health and well-being. To help improve your sleep quality and quantity, consider incorporating these healthy sleep habits into your routine:
- Avoid consuming alcohol right before bed.
- Limit your caffeine intake to at least eight hours before bedtime.
- Avoid adjusting your sleep schedule by more than an hour on weekends.
- Spend time outdoors during the day to get exposure to natural light.
- Keep pre-bedtime snacks light and small.
- Create a cozy, cool, and dark sleeping environment.
- Put away electronic screens at least an hour before you want to fall asleep.
- Aim to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Practice relaxation techniques before attempting to fall asleep.
- Complete intense exercise at least an hour before bedtime.
Developing these habits may be challenging, especially if you’re accustomed to having a cup of coffee in the afternoon or using electronic devices in bed. However, the benefits of good sleep make the effort worthwhile.
Can the brain function on six hours of sleep?
Consistently getting only six hours of sleep will impair brain function. Sleep deprivation can negatively affect memory, slow down reaction times, and even alter behavior.
Is six to eight hours of sleep considered good?
Experts recommend that adults over 18 get at least seven hours of sleep every night. While individual needs may vary slightly, a sleep duration of seven to nine hours is generally considered ideal.
Can I sleep for six hours and take a nap?
Napping cannot fully replace the benefits of a full night’s sleep, but it can help alleviate some effects of sleep deprivation, such as reducing sleepiness and improving mood, alertness, and cognitive function. It’s advisable to limit your naps to a maximum of 30 minutes.
To conclude, for most people, consistently sleeping for more than six hours is essential. These hours are far from unproductive, as your body engages in crucial processes during sleep. By skimping on this vital part of life, you miss out on more than you gain. While changing habits can be challenging, starting with small steps can help you gradually reduce your sleep debt and experience improvements in overall health.