How much sleep do you need to be healthy and productive?

Are you worried that you are not getting enough sleep?

I feel you, just like me, you don’t want to waste your precious time but you don’t want to ruin your health either.

So the question is, how much sleep do you need?

This question has been haunting me forever, and I guess I’m not the only one. Just like you, I wanted to know how much sleep I need to be healthy and productive. That’s why I decided to do some research and answer this damned question for once and for all.

In this article, I’ll give insights to the science behind getting enough shut eye.

  • Why I can’t just tell you to sleep for 6 or 8 hours.
  • What is a good night of sleep?
  • This is how to get a good night.
  • How long should you sleep?

6 hours of sleep or 8 hours of sleep, who is right?

So, if you’ve googled for the answers to this question before, you might have stumbled upon results like this:

How much sleep do you need?

As you can see one result claims that 6 hours of sleep is as bad as no sleep at all and the other claims that we only need 6, so who is right?

Normally I’d just read the scientific journals and get the answer, but this time it isn’t that simple. Because the studies conducted on this matter often contradict each other.

Some people, like me, function perfectly on 6 hours of sleep but my girlfriend gets cranky on just 6 hours of sleep. Perhaps we should first figure out what a good night of sleep is before we figure out how much sleep we should get.

What is a good night of sleep?

You could get 10 hours of sleep and still feel like you haven’t slept at all, because the quality of your sleep matters more than the quantity. Quality sleep exists out of the following statements:

  • You fall asleep within 15-20 minutes of lying down.
  • Your sleep is continuous.
  • You don’t snore or have pauses in breathing.
  • When you wake up, you feel refreshed.

If one of these statements doesn’t apply to you, you’re having bad quality sleep. Before we get into how much sleep you need, you need to make sure that you are getting quality sleep. Because low quality sleep is just as bad as no sleep. We also might as well want to know how sleep works.

It’s simple, when you sleep you sleep in sleep cycles and you just need to make a few sleep cycles to get a good night of sleep.

Sleep cycles last about 90 minutes and have 4 stages.

The first stage is the light sleep stage. In this stage, your muscles will start to relax and it’s quite easy to wake someone who’s in the first stage. After a few minutes, you’ll get into the second stage, your body temperature will decrease and your heart rate will slow down to prepare for the third stage. The third stage is a deep sleep stage and during this stage your body will strengthen your immune system, fix and regrow tissues and build muscle.

Since 2007 the third and fourth stage are combined but furthermore this graph is quite accurate.

After these 3 stages, you’ll get into the final stage: REM-sleep. During your REM-sleep your eyes will indeed make rapid movements and you’ll start to dream.

When you can finish a few of these cycles without interruption you’re having a good night of sleep.

How do I get a good night of sleep?

So, the trick to getting good sleep, is sleeping in full cycles and waking up during the first or second stage of your sleep cycle. However, you shouldn’t try to wake up during the third or fourth stages. Did someone ever wake you up during the night and did that make you cranky? That was probably because you were in the third stage or having a nice dream. If you try to wake up your self during these two last stages you’ll wake during a deep sleep. Which will probably result in you being groggy in the morning and low on energy for the rest of the day.

Considering a sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes you should get either 3, 4 and a half, 6, 7 and a half or 9 hours of sleep.

If you want to wake up at 5 am in the morning, like I do, you should go to bed at 9:15 or 10:45. If you fall asleep within 15 minutes, you should be fine.

However, some people can’t just fall asleep, perhaps because they’re night owls. This sucks but not being able to fall asleep before 2 am doesn’t have to be a problem. Just make sure your alarm clock goes off at 8 am or 9:30 am and you should feel refreshed. If you can’t afford to get out of bed that late you should try to fall asleep earlier. This Wikihow article has some awesome tricks to help you do that.

So, How much sleep do you need?

So now we know all of this about the importance of full sleep cycles, we’re getting to the final answer to the question: How much sleep do I need to be healthy and productive?

3 hours and 4.5 hours of sleep might be in full sleep cycles, but it is certainly not enough. A study conducted by The University of New South Wales showed that people who slept less than 5 hours performed just as bad as someone under the influence of alcohol. Sleeping more than 9 hours tends to cause diabetes, heart diseases and increased risks of death. Which means either 6, 7 and a half or 9 hours should be ideal.

Which of the 3 options we need likely depends on genes and how much stress you have. If you have a stressful job you might prefer a long recharging night of 9 hours. If you’re capable of managing your stress you’d be perfectly fine with 7.5 hours or 6 hours.

I personally always aim for 7.5 hours because it feels safe to play. However, whenever I sleep for only 6 hours I sometimes feel even better. So, it’s really a personal thing, you should try whatever fits you best, just keep in mind, sleep full cycles.

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