I’ve listened to and read about people who claim that they can get by on just a few hours (4-6) of sleep per night. Something about those claims never seemed quite right to me. I knew on those occasions when I got that kind of sleep I was kind of dragging most of the day. But maybe there are people whose mind and body can thrive on fewer hours of sleep than others.
Well as it turns out, they can’t.
It seems as if the number of hours people need is universal, and based on a recent study, the magic number is 7-8 hours of sleep each night.
Conor Wild, one of the memebr’s of the research team, explained the results.
“We found that the optimum amount of sleep to keep your brain performing at its best was between seven to eight hours every single night. That corresponds to what doctors will tell you, you need to keep your body in tip top shape as well,” Wild said.
Most intriguingly, those who exceeded the maximum suggested sleep time “were equally, as impaired as those who slept too little,” he added.
Wild also noted that “a lot of people were sleeping four hours a night on average, and that had an effect of being 8 years older in terms of their performance on some of these tests.”
The research found that reasoning and verbal abilities were most strongly impacted by too much or too little sleep, while short-term memory performance was relatively unaffected. This is different from findings in most scientific studies of complete sleep deprivation (one or two nights with little or no sleep, as opposed to chronic patterns of too little or too much sleep) and suggests that not getting enough sleep for an extended period affects your brain differently than staying up all night.
Complete sleep deprivation—that is, one or two nights with little or no sleep—did not alter reasoning or verbal skills, though it did hobble short-term memory. This finding is reassuring, given that many professionals—think of hospital residents and airline pilots—have to make life-or-death decisions based on exactly this kind of erratic sleep schedule.
So there you have it. For those of you who claim you can habitually get by on fewer hours of sleep than the rest of us, you’re just kidding yourself. And that belief could have some significant consequences when you are making important decisions. or completing critical tasks.
One thing I could not tell from the research is whether the 7-8 hours of sleep needs to be continuous, or could just getting six hours be made up for by taking a one-hour nap that same day. I’ll keep looking to see what I can find.
In the meantime, if I’m to get my 7-8 hours, it’s time for me to go to bed.
For those interested, here is the abstract from the published study: