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Not Everyone Needs 8 Hours of Sleep – Here's How to Find Your Ideal Number

We’ve been told time and time again that getting seven to eight hours of sleep every night is the magic number for optimal health. However, the truth is there is actually no ideal number. Some individuals might need eight hours in order to function productively, while others only need six.

We spoke to sleep expert and clinical hypnotherapist Claire Aristides, to find out why this is the case and how you can find your perfect number. 

Does everyone really need 8 hours of sleep?

Sleep is definitely not a one-size-fits-all concept as the ideal number is based on an individual’s internal body clock. If you think about it, saying eight hours is the perfect length of sleep for every individual would be like telling everyone they needed to be one specific height. 

Majority of adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep, but there is a percentage who may need less or more sleep. Hence, the average of these different needs equates to eight hours. 

“The average is not necessarily you, though,” Aristides tells Bed Threads Journal. “As an individual, you will have your own requirement and it is important to work out what that is for you.” 

What factors influence how many hours of sleep you need per night?

Factors such as genetics, age, underlying health issues, and environmental and behavioural changes will determine exactly how much sleep your body needs to undergo proper rest and repair during the night. Here’s a rundown of a few factors to consider:

Genetics

A 2014 University of Pittsburgh study found a small percentage of people have a short sleep gene. Those with short sleep syndrome (SSS) can function normally throughout the day on fewer than six hours of sleep per night. Despite their short sleep duration, they can stay focused and productive during the day, and they don’t feel the need to take naps or sleep more on weekends. 

Moreover, in 2019, a group of scientists from the University of California San Francisco identified two human genes that promote “natural short sleep” - nightly sleep that lasts for four to six hours. Individuals who possess this gene wake up feeling refreshed and well-rested, despite their short amount of sleep. The same researchers then went on to discover a third “short sleep’ gene - the first that has been shown to prevent the memory deficits typically associated with sleep deprivation.

Age 

“Adults need about seven hours of sleep a night, while newborns need up to 17 hours of sleep,” Aristides says. Here's a handy breakdown of the amount of sleep we need at different ages:

Recommended hours of sleep, depending on age:

  • 0 - 3 months: 14 - 17 hours total
  • 4 - 12 months: 12 - 16 hours total
  • 1 - 2 years: 11 - 14 hours total
  • 3 - 5 years: 10 - 13 hours total
  • 9 - 12 years: 9 - 12 hours total
  • 13 - 18 years: 8 - 10 hours total
  • 18 - 60 years: 7 hours per night
  • 61 - 64 years: 7 - 9 hours per night
  • 65 years and older: 7 - 8 hours per night

Seasonal changes

Outside temperature may also impact your sleep needs as the change in the sunset and sunrise times affects your melatonin levels. It explains why we feel more tired during the cold, dark winter months and more energetic during the warm, short summer months. 

Menstrual cycle

Have you ever realised your sleep patterns are interrupted right before or during your menstrual cycle? This is because hormonal changes affect your body temperature and melatonin levels, therefore impacting your sleep. In fact, according to the Sleep Foundation, women are twice as likely to experience insomnia before and during their period. PMS can also cause some women to sleep longer hours than normal due to greater fatigue and tiredness, as well as mood changes. 

How do you figure out how much sleep you need?

“If you're trying to figure out the best time to go to sleep, the easiest way is to figure out when you need to wake up in the morning and then count backwards by at least seven hours, which is the recommended number of hours for an adult,” Aristides explains. 

For example, if you need to wake up at 6am, start winding down at around 10pm by putting away screens, dimming the lights, reading a book or doing a relaxing yoga stretch or meditation session. This will help lull your mind and body to sleep by 11pm.

Aristides also recommends you should mimic your weekday sleep schedule on the weekends as “sleeping in on the weekends makes it difficult to get back on track during the week.” 

Claire Aristides is a clinical hypnotherapist and founder of the app Mindology. Follow her on Instagram @clairearistides and @mindology.app.

Did you know there is also a specific time you should drink your morning coffee depending on your sleep chronotype? Here's how to tell what chronotype you are, and what time you should get your caffeine hit.

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