Hey sleep enthusiast, how many hours of sleep are you getting at the moment? Are you grateful for a semi-reliable six hours most nights? Or how about a less predictable phase of a few hours spread across the night with waking up in between? Or perhaps you have found a way to make the elusive four hours a night work for your busy schedule?
In my past life as an unreliable sleeper, my hours asleep would vary wildly. Sleep was always the first thing to go off balance for me when things got stressful. As a sleep coach, I often get asked about the optimum hours of sleep per night - do you really need eight hours?! Like most things in this work, the answer is: it depends. The variance comes from everyone having different lifestyles, needs and preferences.
We can explore more about what that means in this article, along with some sleep coaching guidance for how to uncover more about what your body may need for sleep. For now, let’s start with some science!
What does the science say about sleep?
Let’s get this part out of the way first: there is a small population of people who require fewer than six hours of sleep per night, with short sleeper syndrome. This minimal approach to sleep has been championed by various high-profile leaders over the years as part of 'hustle culture', or performative workaholism. This has led to this kind of approach to sleep achieving an aspirational status, when for most people it is not sustainable.
Whilst there are those who go the opposite way with oversleeping, for example: one of Einstein’s quirks was sleeping for ten hours per night, the general consensus is that most adults need seven to nine hours sleep per night. This guidance comes from various scientific studies into how much sleep the average adult needs for sustained energy and health. That seven to nine hour window still has room for a few different options when it comes to sleep duration, so we will explore more about the impact of different levels of sleep.
How does age affect how many hours sleep you need?
As we move through life, we have different needs from how many hours sleep we need due to factors like growth, development, and overall physiological changes. Infants and young children require more sleep to support their rapid physical and cognitive development. Teenagers require sufficient sleep for hormonal regulation and cognitive function, often welcoming in weekend lie-ins!
Adults benefit from restorative sleep to maintain overall health and well-being from seven to nine hours per night. Older adults (age sixty-five and over) may find that their sleep patterns change, they can wake earlier and find seven to eight hours of sleep to be sufficient for their overall health and well-being.
Individual sleep needs can vary. Some adults may feel adequately rested with seven hours, while others may require closer to nine hours for optimal functioning. The variance in sleep needs within this range can be influenced by several factors. These include individual differences in sleep quality and efficiency, genetic variations, lifestyle choices, physical activity levels, overall health status, and personal factors such as stress levels and psychological well-being.
What other factors affect how many hours of sleep you need?
If you’re unsure about how many hours of sleep your body may need to be able to have the most energy in your days, you can consider some of the factors below.
How many of your daily activities require high levels of alertness (or can you do a lot on autopilot)?
How much energy do you tend to exert in a day? This can be in all forms of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual energy.
How do you feel on days where you have had six, seven, eight or nine hours sleep the night before?
How much caffeine do you need on average per day?
Where do your energy levels tend to be when you’re not on a schedule, eg: on days off or holidays?
From working with sleep coaching clients, the answers to these questions tend to vary quite significantly as everyone has different lifestyles and preferences. This is where Restful Sleep coaching supports people in working with optimising their habits and environments for sleep (for example, trying out the CBTI sleep rules), but also in terms of feeling into finding individual conclusions that work for the individual.
For example: if a person is committed to, say, two or three cups of coffee per day, the stimulation from caffeine will impact the other variable factors that make up their lifestyle. When looking at how these are all related, there is the option to reduce the number of cups of coffee for more balance overall, or if that is not something they may be willing to do, they can then look at what other factors may need to shift. A question I often ask clients to consider is: how much would you prefer to sleep if there was no schedule and no stimulating substances?
Something to bear in mind is that the questions are subjective, so you may wish to revisit them from time to time to familiarise yourself with them. You can also check if you may notice anything new as you test out what it’s like with the different hours of sleep per night.
You might also find answering these questions to be difficult to gauge if you are not in the habit of checking in with how your body feels. This can be a common experience for people who live a busy life with over-stimulation in their system.
What if you’re t’wired?
Experiencing over-stimulation is a common experience of modern life. If you have felt highly stimulated during your days, you may be able to notice an underlying weariness as you’re going about the many tasks of your day. Something you’ll definitely be aware of is struggling to wind down when it comes to bedtime. If this sounds familiar, you may be t’wired: that’s both tired and wired simultaneously:
‘Because so many of us struggle nightly with inadequate sleep and dreams, we become chronically tired. At the same time, the excessive stimulation and hyperbole emblematic of modern life drives us to feel persistently wired. We are t'wired - simultaneously tired and wired…
Research confirms that insomnia is commonly associated with hyperarousal, a kind of excessive, turbo-charged wakefulness. Hyperarousal is characterized by racing brain waves, a rapid heart rate, over heated core body temperature and dysfunctional hormonal rhythms -- all of which serve to both hinder nighttime sleep and mask daytime sleepiness.’
Excerpt from Are you t’wired - simultaneously tired and wired? By Dr Rubin Naiman
When I have worked with clients who realised they were experiencing being t’wired, it took a while for them to fully recognise it in themselves. Typically clients may have initial common beliefs such as "I simply function well on four hours of sleep", to eventually finding more presence with themselves to be able to sense the tiredness and over-stimulation playing out in their lives. It can often be a revelation, including uncovering any blind spots where they may be disconnected from their needs. You can read more about how former client Mateuz rediscovered joy in his sleep success story.
How sleep coaching can help
Reviewing lifestyle factors and building more awareness of how your body is feeling, as well as the messages it sends through embodiment, gives a flavour of how it is to get into the Restful Sleep coaching experience. You can explore how the different aspects of your lifestyle impact on your sleep using the resources on this website. If you’re curious about learning about how to tune in more to your mind-body connection, you can learn more about the embodiment practices used in Restful Sleep coaching.
If you would like support and quicker results, Restful Sleep coaching can help with analysing all of the subjective factors that help you to determine how much sleep you may need to function well. You can find out more about Restful Sleep coaching here or book a free discovery call here to ask any specific questions you might have about your sleep struggles.