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Blog Sleep & Wellness

Is 6 Hours of Sleep Enough? No, Here's How Much Sleep You Really Need

From the Puffy Editorial Team | 11 min read.
Is 6 Hours of Sleep Enough? No, Here's How Much Sleep You Really Need

Personal and professional obligations often take a backseat to sleep. When there’s so much to do, and so little time to get it all done, you may find yourself compromising on your deep sleep without sparing a second thought. In fact, according to the 2020 Puffy Sleep Survey, 59% of respondents are averaging less than six hours of sleep per night.

But the results beg the question: Is 6 hours of sleep enough? While it may seem like you’re functioning normally and getting enough sleep, experts advise against sleeping that little since it usually means you’re not moving through the stages of sleep properly.

Sleep deprivation can have a negative impact on our physical and mental health and it’s something we hear about too often. But sleeping for 6 hours per night may not necessarily feel like deprivation, especially if you find that you wake up feeling rested. Yet, sleep journals and public health officials almost universally recommend getting eight hours of sleep a night, and if not that, then at least seven hours. But does an hour really make a difference?

Research has determined that it does, but it’s not because you experience deeper sleep in that one hour. It’s actually because people tend to overestimate how much quality sleep they get.

One study found that people who got an average of 6 hours of sleep overestimated the amount of sleep they got by 48 minutes. By contrast, those who slept for more than 6 hours overestimated their sleep by half an hour. Based on this study’s findings, it might be apt to say that even if you think you get 6 hours of sleep per night, chances are you’re only getting 5, which is far less than the recommended average.

But does it matter as long as you wake up feeling rested? Let’s break down why you should aim for more sleep, regardless of how you feel in the morning.

Sleep Quality vs. Sleep Quantity: What’s More Important?

There may be times when you get less than 6 hours of sleep and wake up feeling refreshed. Other times, you might sleep for as long as 10 hours and still wake up tired and groggy.

You can blame your circadian rhythm for this. Also known as your internal clock, the circadian rhythm is what regulates production of melatonin in your body and keeps you feeling alert or tired through the day. Taking sleep medicine might also induce grogginess during the day

As such, it might be a no-brainer to say that the quality of your sleep always trumps quantity. But the reality is your sleep health can’t be measured by one bad or good nights sleep. Though you could place more importance on one than the other, sleep quantity and sleep quality aren’t separate entities. They’re inextricably linked, and you need both to optimize your sleep health.

How Much Should You Be Sleeping?

Many factors affect the amount of sleep you need, including your age, medical conditions, and environment. But out of all the elements, age is the most important consideration. For instance, babies will need to sleep much longer than older adults.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, here’s the recommended sleep by age.

How Much Should You Be Sleeping?

But What if 6 Hours Feels Enough?

If you only get 6 hours of sleep and still feel fine every morning, you may feel like you have a hidden superpower. But research has shown that even though some people may report feeling well-rested after sleeping for 6 hours, they’re more sleep-deprived than they realize.

In one noteworthy study, researchers asked 48 participants to sleep for 4, 6, and 8 hours for two weeks, while another group was deprived of sleep for three consecutive days.

During this period, researchers measured every participant’s cognitive performance and reaction time. Unsurprisingly, the results revealed that those who slept for 8 hours tested the best, while those who slept for 4 hours tested worse each day. The group that slept for 6 hours performed well until day 10 of the study, after which their cognitive performance deteriorated and became as bad as the group that didn’t get any sleep.

Despite the declining performance, the 6-hour group didn’t report any need for more sleep, which indicates they didn’t realize that the lack of sleep was taking a toll on them. This can be explained by a phenomenon known as renorming. Renorming means we can only compare how we feel today to how we felt yesterday or the day before.

For instance, if you go from sleeping 8 hours to 6 for a period of time, you might feel significantly more tired on the first day than on the 10th. This is because, by the 10th day, your body is already accustomed to getting only 6 hours of sleep.

So, even if you wake up feeling like you get enough sleep with just 6 hours of sleep, it’s likely that you don’t realize the negative effects of sleeping that little because you’re used to it. Moving through all the stages of sleep and getting quality sleep is incredibly important to your well-being.

The Dangers of Getting Only 6 Hours of Sleep

It may be hard to perceive poor sleep as dangerous, but there’s a reason why deliberate sleep deprivation was used as a means of torture for centuries.

Lack of sleep is known to have a profoundly negative long-term impact on your physical and mental health. An insufficient night’s sleep might not seem damaging in the long run, but when you’re used to getting less than 6 hours of sleep, the consequences of cumulative sleep deprivation may sneak up on you.

Older adults especially struggle with getting enough sleep through the night. Cultivating healthy sleep habits is especially important here, since the ill effects of poor sleep are long lasting

Here’s an in-depth look at some of the adverse effects of getting less than the recommended amount of sleep.

  • Impairs judgment - Think back to a time when you pulled an all-nighter. You can likely remember the frustration of feeling like you couldn’t think straight about anything. Staying up past the middle of the night might feel like you’re making the most of your day, but research has shown that lack of sleep impairs your ability to make sound decisions.

    In one study about financial decision-making, participants were divided into two groups: one group slept for 5 hours and the other for 8. Both groups were given two choices daily for a week: They could either get a certain amount of money that was guaranteed or accept a higher sum of money with the risk of not getting anything.

    The study found that the group that slept for 5 hours was more inclined to choose the riskier option. Another important detail was that the participants were so sleep-deprived that they lacked the self-awareness to realize they were making a risky decision.
  • Weakens immune system - A healthy body needs more than 6 hours of sleep. Poor sleep can lower your body’s immunity, making you more susceptible to illnesses, such as the common cold.

    This is because your immune system produces proteins called cytokines while you’re sleeping. Cytokines protect you against infections, but insufficient sleep can decrease the production of cytokines in your body. Not only are you more likely to get sick, but your recovery time also slows down.
  • Causes weight gain - You’re running on less than 6 hours of sleep, you’re swamped and exhausted at work, and by the time you get home, all you want to do is gorge on a family-sized pizza and the greasiest, cheesiest mozzarella sticks. Sound familiar?

    When you don’t get sufficient sleep, you’re likely to feel more tired than someone who gets the recommended seven hours. As a result, you might turn to food for comfort and energy. But your chances of choosing healthy options are slim. This is because the amount of sleep you get has a direct influence on your appetite hormones. Lack of sleep increases ghrelin levels, known as the hunger hormone, and decreases leptin, the hormone that tells you when you’re full.

    High ghrelin levels can make you crave foods that are sugary and high in fat, which can lead to eventual weight gain. Poor sleep also slows down your metabolism, making it difficult to lose the weight you’ve gained.

Tips for Getting More Sleep Every Night

better night's rest

Sleeping for 8 hours is easier said than done, especially if you’re used to only 6 hours of sleep, or staying up till the middle of the night. But getting into the habit of sleeping longer can help you function at an optimal level. Here are some tips for building a bedtime routine that will help you sleep every night without needing to rely on sleep medicine.

  • Establish a schedule and try to stick to it - Setting out to get more than 6 hours of sleep may be challenging at first, but creating a fix sleep schedule and doing your best to stick to it when you sleep each night is a good starting point, using sleep calculator can help to set sleep schedule. 

    Waking up and going to bed at the same time can help regulate your sleep cycle, so ensure you’re consistent. Even if you feel the urge to sleep in on the weekends, give yourself a 1-hour extension, but don’t exceed it.

    As with any new routine, you might hit a few roadblocks here and there, but just try to be patient. After a few weeks, you’ll find yourself sleeping and waking up at the same time without even realizing it.
  • Avoid napping during the day - Napping too much or taking naps at irregular times of the day could be one reason why you’re not able to get sufficient sleep at night.

    Power naps can help you reset and give you a boost of energy, but it’s important to time them correctly. Naps shouldn’t last longer than 30 minutes if you want to get the sleep you need at night.
  • Get regular exercise - Regular exercise is known to improve sleep, and the reverse is also true. Sleep and weight loss are interlinked, so getting more than 6 hours of sleep can improve your athletic performance and help you stay in better shape.

    When it comes to exercise, try not to exert yourself too close to bedtime because that can keep you up longer. Instead, do the bulk of your high-intensity workouts during the day and save lower-intensity exercises, such as yoga, for nighttime.
  • Avoid screens before bed - Reading a book on your Kindle or watching your favorite show might seem like the best way to unwind before bedtime, but a strict no-screens-before-bed policy is essential for falling asleep quicker.

    The blue glow from phones, computers, and tablets suppresses melatonin production, the hormone that tells your body it’s time to sleep. The optimal time to avoid screens is 2 - 3 hours before bedtime, but if that’s not feasible, ensure you power off all your devices at least 30 minutes before you plan to sleep.
  • Manage your stresses - A large chunk of our days is spent juggling tasks, but when the lights are out, the mind is free to roam. If you find that your thoughts and anxieties keep you up regularly, it’s important to start managing them.

    One of the best ways to keep stressful thoughts at bay is by writing them down. Keep a notebook beside your bed and write down your worries to get them off your mind. You can also try other relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing - all these habits can help you get better sleep each night.
  • Get cozy with bedtime essentials - Investing in the most comfortable mattress is as essential for your sleep health as practicing proper sleep hygiene. A memory foam mattress, in particular, is a good choice because it’s designed to provide pressure-relieving rest and molds to the body for maximum comfort.

    A comfortable sleep setup can not only improve the quality of your sleep, but it can also improve your overall quality of life by raising your energy levels during the day.

Learn more on how to get better sleep, a guide to help you sleep well.

At the end of the day, getting just 6 hours of sleep isn’t ideal for the average person. Conditioning yourself to get more sleep may be tough at first, but it’s well worth the effort. Try these simple tips and start prioritizing sleep to improve your health.

Your Turn...

How many hours of sleep do you get every night? Tell us below in the comments!

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Disclaimer. We love sleep and we want you to get the best sleep possible. But we do not provide medical advice. This blog is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical info, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on our blog.

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