Is 6 Hours Enough Sleep? The Answer May Surprise You
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. This means that 6 hours of sleep falls short of this mark by 60 minutes. But does it also mean that only getting 6 hours of shut-eye will leave you sleep-deprived, sluggish, and miserable? Not necessarily.
Countless studies have been done on the importance of sleep, how to achieve quality sleep, and how much sleep we really need to function in everyday life. While many people still strive to reach that eight-hour mark, research suggests that certain people can function and even thrive on much less. With many factors at play including age, gender, and activity level, the answer to the question, “Is 6 hours of sleep enough?”, isn’t a simple one.
Keep reading for a closer look at how much sleep you really need and what it means for your overall health and wellbeing.
How Much Sleep is Recommended and Why?
Regardless of your age, your body needs sufficient sleep to recharge, repair, recover each night and prepare for the next day. From improving memory to strengthening your immune system and everything in between, you can’t function without sleep. While it’s recommended that healthy adults get between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night, younger individuals including teens, young children, and babies require much more sleep to support their growth and development. Elderly individuals over the age of 65 benefit most from 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
Here’s a breakdown of the recommended hours of sleep per age group:
- Newborns (0 to 3 months): 14 to 17 hours of sleep
- Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours of sleep
- Toddlers (1 to 2 years old): 11 to 14 hours of sleep
- Preschool age (3 to 5 years old): 10 to 13 hours of sleep
- School-age (6 to 14 years old): 9 to 11 hours of sleep
- Teens (14 to 17 years old): 8 to 10 hours of sleep
- Young adult (18 to 25 years old): 7 to 9 hours of sleep
- Adults (26 to 64 years old): 7 to 9 hours of sleep
- Older adults (65 years old and older): 7 to 8 hours of sleep
These age brackets and recommended hours of sleep are just a guideline. Many other factors determine how much sleep you really need to function including your overall health and activity levels. Based on this information, you may need slightly less or more sleep than what’s normally recommended.
You may be wondering who came up with these recommendations in the first place. An expert panel of 18 experts in the fields of science and medicine came together to review hundreds of sleep studies on sleep duration and its effects on pain, depression, heart disease, and diabetes. The panel then evaluated these results over the course of 9 months to narrow down the recommended range of sleep per age group. In addition to the panel members, the AASM (American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the SRS (Sleep Research Society) also weighed in on the discussion. The group of experts worked together to formulate these recommendations for the amount of sleep needed by both children and adults.
Why Genetics Matters
Studies show that genes play a part in why one person may flourish on just 6 hours of sleep while another flounders. A study conducted by scientists at UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) found that the NPSR1 gene mutation allows some people to get by on as little as 4.5 hours of sleep. Not only that, but these same people don’t experience the same memory issues normally associated with sleep deprivation. Individuals with the ADRB1 and DEC2 gene mutation can function on as little as five or 6 hours per night.
While this may sound amazing, don’t get too excited. Only a very small minority of people have the genes required to function on minimal amounts of sleep. In fact, one doctor reported the number is so small that if rounded to a whole number, it would be zero. For example, the NPSR1 gene mutation is only present in one out of every 4 million people. So, unless you’re one of these very select few, chances are, you can’t function on just 6 hours of sleep. If you think you’re an exception to the rule, keep reading for deeper insight into why 6 hours of sleep probably isn’t enough.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Here are some questions to ask yourself when determining if the amount of sleep you’re getting each night is adequate.
How Do You Feel When You First Wake Up and During the Day?
Do you wake up feeling well-rested and alert or do you feel sluggish and drowsy? Your energy levels and focus are good indicators of whether or not you’re sleeping enough. While one person may wake feeling rejuvenated and motivated after only 6 hours of sleep, someone else may not feel well-rested unless they get 8 hours. Keep a sleep diary that tracks what time you go to bed, what time you wake up, and how you feel. If you feel energetic and invigorated after only 6 or 7 hours of sleep, you may be one of the lucky ones. If not, try to adjust your sleep schedule to allow for additional hours.
What Other Health Issues Do You Have?
Certain health issues impact sleep more than others. While some medications and ailments can make it difficult to fall and stay asleep, others make you drowsy both at night and during the day. Take into account what health issues you face, what the common side effects are, and how any medications you’re taking may impact your sleep patterns.
How Physically Active Are You During the Day?
Your level of physical activity also plays a role in how much sleep you need and how well you sleep. The higher your energy-level expenditure is each day, the more sleep you’ll need to recover. This includes working a labor-intensive job, playing sports, or engaging in strenuous exercise. Your muscles need time to rest and recover to prevent injury and extreme fatigue. On the other hand, regular physical exercise can also increase energy levels and may result in the need for slightly fewer hours of sleep.
Do You Have a History of Sleep Problems?
Individuals with prior sleep issues or disorders may require more sleep than others. A history of insomnia, sleep apnea, daytime fatigue, snoring, RLS, or another common sleep disorder may alter your sleep patterns and routine.
Do You Rely on Caffeine and Naps to Stay Awake During the Day?
Relying on caffeine or napping during the day to feel more alert and function is a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep. Although there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning or needing an afternoon “pick me up”, if you can’t function with caffeine, it’s likely a sign that you’re not getting a sufficient amount of sleep. Napping during the day can have some benefits when done correctly. This means napping long enough to enter slow wave sleep but not so long that you wake up feeling groggy or disorientated. It’s recommended daytime naps last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. Avoid napping too close to bedtime. Doing so will make it more difficult to fall asleep and can disrupt your sleep schedule even more.
Is 6 Hours of Sleep Enough?
There’s no cut-and-dry answer to this question. When it comes to determining how much sleep is enough, it depends on the person. With that being said, some experts argue that regardless of how healthy you are or how energetic you feel, 6 hours of sleep per night simply isn’t enough.
These claims are based on the following research and information.
The Math Doesn’t Add Up
The ideal amount of sleep per night is 8 hours and 10 minutes, give or take about 45 minutes. That means even on the lower side of the spectrum (45 minutes less than 8 hours and 10 minutes), your body still needs at least 7 hours and 25 minutes to rest, recover, and repair itself. There’s also another 15% of the population that needs even more than 8 or 9 hours of sleep to function at optimal levels.
Not meeting the bare minimum of your body’s sleep needs adds up over time and accumulates to what’s known as sleep debt, or the amount of sleep you’ve missed over a 2 week period. That means if you only sleep 6 hours per night for 2 weeks straight, you’re nearly 15 hours short on the required (recommended) hours of sleep. Scientists argue that it’s simply not possible for your body to function this way, long-term.
Another area where the numbers don’t add up is when estimating not only how much sleep you need but how much you actually achieved. For example, not accounting for how long it took you to fall asleep, how many times you woke up, and for how long. These small breaks in your sleep have a big impact on sleep quality. That means if you’re only in bed for 6 hours in total, you’re probably sleeping even less than that.
You’re Not Noticing Daytime Drowsiness as an Issue
Constant yawning, frequent trips to the coffee shop, or downing energy drinks may seem like typical daily behavior. The truth is, they’re not. As mentioned above, if you’re exhibiting chronic daytime fatigue that makes it difficult to focus or perform daily tasks and responsibilities, it may be more serious than just having an “off day”. One scientist refers to daytime drowsiness as a “red alert” and the first sign that you’re not sleeping enough. So, don’t brush it off as inconsequential. Your body is trying to send you a message and you need to listen.
You Can’t Trick Your Brain or Body
The human body is designed to function in a certain way. And this includes moving through different stages of sleep that make up your sleep cycle. Each stage plays an important role in your overall health, wellbeing, mental state, and energy levels. You can’t fight the clock. If you’re only sleeping 6 hours per night, your body doesn’t have sufficient time to move through each stage of sleep the way it was designed to do.
There are four stages of sleep including NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). The first two stages of sleep are lighter, while stages three and four are much deeper. These stages are also where you dream, where your body repairs itself, and your brain makes important connections, sorting and storing information. Most people cycle through these stages of sleep between four and 6 times per night and spend around 90 minutes in each cycle. Broken down, you can see that 6 hours of sleep doesn’t give your body enough time to do this.
Other studies show that your sleep patterns will actually change in an attempt to survive on less sleep. Not progressing through each sleep cycle in a healthy way forces your brain to remain in deep sleep longer at the expense of the lighter stages of sleep including REM which is crucial for emotional regulation, learning, memory, and problem-solving. Countless studies have proven that you can’t trick your brain or body into spending more or less time in a certain sleep stage. Instead, you need to allow more time for restorative sleep.
You Slowly Adjust to Functioning on Less Sleep
Our bodies are amazing and adaptable. While this is often a benefit, when it comes to sleep, it can be a detriment to your health. In order to survive and function, your brain tricks itself into thinking that it’s working just fine on only 6 hours or less of sleep when, in reality, it’s struggling.
Short periods of sleep cause a spike in cortisol production, a hormone that promotes alertness and is released when you become stressed. Too much cortisol tricks your brain into thinking you have enough energy to function on less than the recommended amount of sleep. This also leads to slow reaction times and low energy levels. Over time, you come to accept these levels as your new normal. Sadly, lack of sleep is most likely causing a slow down in your emotional, cognitive, and physiological abilities.
Your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) regulates when you feel tired and when you feel awake. This system works independently of your sleep cycles. That means you’ll still experience a spike in energy during the daytime hours, regardless of how much or little you sleep. This is another way your brain tricks your body into thinking it’s getting enough sleep and masks chronic sleep deprivation. When, in actuality, had you gotten sufficient shut-eye, you’d feel much more energized and focused and your energy peaks would last much longer.
Those Extra Hours Aren’t as Productive as You Think
Do you set your alarm an hour earlier each morning to give yourself more time to get things done? While this is very ambitious, the truth is, you’re sacrificing precious sleep for little return. Despite how productive you think you are during these extra hours of wakefulness, your body and brain are functioning at much slower levels. In fact, you’d be better off staying in bed for another hour and then capitalizing on how focused and energetic you feel when you finally do wake up. Remember, your sleep debt adds up and takes a major toll on your overall productivity.
Tips for Improving Sleep Quality and Making It a Priority
Now that you know you probably need more than 6 hours per night of sleep, the question remains – how do I make sleep a priority? Hectic work schedules, increased stress, and other life demands make it seemingly impossible to get sufficient sleep every single night. There just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day. And since you can’t increase the number of hours in a day, you need to get creative about making more time for sleep.
Here are a few tips for making sleep a priority and giving it the time (literally) and attention it deserves.
Create a Schedule
Bedtimes aren’t just for children. It’s time to set a bedtime and stick to it. That means not allowing work or social obligations to interfere with your sleep. Determine how much time you need for sleep and then budget that into your day. Fight the urge to set your morning alarm earlier to get work done or stay out late with friends for “one more drink”. Decide what time you’ll be in bed and what time you’ll get up. Then, work the rest of your life into your awake hours.
Focus on Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene is everything you do that either hinders or helps your ability to get quality sleep. It involves both your behaviors and your environment. Be honest about what practices might be stopping you from getting enough sleep. For example, scrolling through social media before bed or watching television. The blue light from these digital devices may be interfering with your brain’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Swap your smartphone for a book or journal. Your bedroom should also facilitate sleep. Invest in a quality mattress and comfortable, supportive pillow. Reduce noise and light distractions using a sound machine or sleep mask.
Adopt a Healthy Nighttime Routine
Another great way to prepare for sleep is by performing the same relaxing activities every night at the same time. These act as subconscious cues to your body that it’s time for bed. For example, listening to soft music, taking a hot bath, or sipping chamomile tea. Mindfulness and meditation are also effective ways to relax the mind and body before bed.
FAQ About Sleep
In closing, here are a few frequently asked questions about sleep.
Is 6 Hours of Sleep Enough for One Night?
Based on countless years of research, studies, and genetics, the short answer is no. Most people can’t function long-term on just 6 hours of sleep a night. The average recommended number of hours still hovers around 8, with some individuals needing closer to 9. Pay close attention to your body’s cues and signs that you may be sleep deprived.
Is 6 Hours Enough Sleep to Build Muscle?
Your body performs many amazing functions during sleep, one of which is muscle growth and repair. This is especially important for physically fit individuals, but it’s also vital for healthy circulation. Blood flow brings oxygen and nutrients to your muscles helping them repair, recover, and regenerate new cells. Six hours isn’t enough time for this process to work sufficiently. One study indicated that sleep deprivation for even just one night was enough to reduce muscle protein synthesis by nearly 20%. That means, instead of growing or repairing your muscles, you may experience muscle loss.
Is 6 Hours Enough Sleep for Memory Retention?
Some of the most important things your brain does during sleep are sort through information, formulate memories, strengthen cognitive function, and build the foundation for learning. It usually takes between four and 6 sleep cycles for this process to complete. With each cycle lasting approximately 90 minutes, 6 hours of sleep simply isn’t enough. Unless, of course, you’re one of the select few with a rare gene mutation that not only lets you function on as little as four and a half hours of sleep but does so with no negative side effects to memory prowess or cognitive abilities.
Getting Enough Sleep is About More Than Just Beauty Rest
All too often, we sacrifice sleep in the name of work, socializing, or other obligations. While it may seem advantageous to set your alarm a few hours early to get a jump on the day, you’re doing more harm than good in the long run. Over time, your sleep debt adds up and takes its toll.
Even if you feel energetic after just 6 hours of sleep, if you pay close attention, your body is likely to show you small signs that things are amiss. Daytime drowsiness, the need for caffeine, and lack of productivity are all signs that you need to prioritize sleep.
At Somnus Therapy, we work to help you identify your sleep issues and replace negative patterns of behavior with healthier, more productive ones. Through mindfulness, meditation, and a variety of CBT-i techniques, you can finally get the blissful night’s sleep your body clearly needs. Click here to get started today.