How to Know If 6 Hours of Sleep Is Enough
We’ve all heard it before: All adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. But really, six hours of sleep is just short of seven so really, how bad is that?
According to Peter Polos, M.D., an associate professor of sleep medicine at Hackensack JFK Medical Center in New Jersey and a sleep expert for Sleep Number, it’s not great. For most people, less than six hours can cumulatively lead to insufficient sleep and what experts call “sleep debt.” That’s the situation where, with each day of insufficient sleep, you can get further behind on your health needs.
“Insufficient sleep has a negative impact on health and performance, and not getting enough sleep consistently can impact a number of bodily functions—including your brain, immunity, metabolism and more,” he says. “That’s because while we sleep, our mind and body need enough time to rest and recover—which includes consolidation, restoration and clean-up from the day.” We’ve come a long way from the days when sleep loss was a sign of success and a badge of honor. Even pro athletes are recognizing and reaping the benefits of sleeping better (learn how pro athletes are using sleep to optimize performance).
Read on to learn more about how sleep needs may differ among individuals, as well as what you can do to boost your individual sleep situation.
Does everyone need the same amount of sleep?
According to Dr. Polos, everyone’s sleep needs are not the same. He admits that there are some people who can do very well on six or less hours of sleep, but that’s not most of us. “Most people who need 7 to 8 hours [may find those needs] can change over the course of life,” he says.
One way to know if you’re getting enough is to measure how sleepy you are during the day. A famous way to do it is what’s called the Epworth Sleepiness Scale. Find your score via this interactive tool on the CDC’s website—it asks you questions like how likely you are to nod off if you’re sitting and reading, or as a passenger in a car for an hour or more. A score of 10 or higher indicates that you aren’t getting enough sleep.
If tossing and turning at night is keeping you from getting more than six hours of sleep, check out these solutions for what to do when you really can’t sleep.
How can you create and maintain good sleep habits?
If you consistently get six hours of sleep a night, it shouldn’t be that big of a challenge to prioritize shut-eye and get that up to seven. If you’re just not feeling sleepy in the evening and have a hard time getting to bed even though you keep a consistent wakeup time, it’s important to skip a midday nap, or limit it to 30 minutes or less if you really feel like you need one. “Our body runs on an internal clock – called our circadian rhythm – that helps promote sleep and awakening,” he says. “Sleeping in a dark, cool room that is at about 68 degrees [can be helpful as well].”
Dr. Polos also recommends avoiding watching TV or using your computer or phone at least 30 minutes before bed, as this can inhibit melatonin release and delay sleep onset. You should also avoid consuming caffeine or alcohol too close to bedtime. Lastly, if you prefer to exercise at night rather than in the morning, he advises getting your workout in at least two hours before you plan to go to sleep.
Finally, if you have questions or concerns about your sleep or if you don’t feel like you’re ever getting enough sleep, make an appointment with a sleep specialist, Dr. Polos says. They can help you rule out any underlying health issues that may be causing sleeplessness, or make other recommendations to help boost your quality of shut-eye. There are also sleep coaches who can help you nail some details in your lifestyle that help you get a good night’s sleep. (See how one man used a sleep coach and finally get some rest.)
Emilia Benton is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor. In addition to Women’s Health, she has contributed health, fitness and wellness content to Runner’s World, SELF, Prevention, Healthline, and POPSUGAR, among other publications. She is also a 10-time marathoner, frequent traveler and avid amateur baker.
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