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Is 6 hours of sleep enough? Here's what the science says

How much sleep do we actually need?

Written by
Kaitlyn Wilson
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
April 22, 2024
min read
Is 6 hours of sleep enough? Here's what the science says
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Since birth — which might be the last time we collectively had a decent night's sleep — we've been told that 8 hours of sleep is the amount we need to function and thrive.

But, with busy schedules, work, kids and all of the rest, achieving a full night's sleep isn't always on the card and many adults average closer to 6 hours of sleep per night. The question is, is that enough?

While only getting 6 hours of sleep a few times here and there isn't going to cause any serious issues, it is still not considered adequate sleep. Here's what the science has to say about it (and how you can actually achieve a solid 8 hours!).

Why is sleep important?

Basically, poor sleep equals poor health. Well, it isn't quite that simple, but sleep is an essential biological function that allows the body to recover and repair itself.

It supports cardiac function, brain development, metabolism and the immune system. Getting enough sleep also improves your cognitive performance, including memory and learning, as well as improving mood and regulating weight [1].

But, how much sleep do we actually need?

Is 6 hours of sleep enough?

We have always been told that we need at least 8 hours of sleep. However, the amount of sleep we actually need is often debated.

While the amount of sleep required is different for every age group, most experts agree that the average amount of sleep required for good overall health is between 7-9 hours.

So, is 6 hours of sleep enough?

The research is a little inconclusive. However, according to sleep experts, 6 hours or less of sleep is considered insufficient [2]. While you might not feel sleep deprived after only 6 hours, your overall health could be compromised, as could the quality of the rest you have had.

Only getting 6 hours of sleep could disrupt your sleep cycle and circadian rhythm and prevent you from reaching the right amount of sleep.

REM is the deepest stage of sleep in the cycle. For adults, 20-25% of your sleep cycle should be REM sleep. To achieve this, you need to sleep for roughly 7-8 hours.

This deep sleep is the restorative phase where your muscles repair themselves, and your cells regenerate. It is also when you create memories. Failing to get enough sleep, especially in the REM stage, can seriously impact your healing, memory and overall health [3].

How much sleep does your body need?

How much sleep you need depends on your age group. For example, the sleep duration of a teenager will be longer than older adults but less than that of infants.

The amount of sleep you need according to your age group is as follows:

  • Newborns: 0-3 months require 14-17 hours of sleep per day
  • Infants: 4-11 months need 12-15 hours per day
  • Toddlers: 1-2 years old needs 11-14 hours per day
  • Preschool: 3-5 years old require 10-13 hours per day
  • School-age: 6-13 years old need 9-11 hours of sleep per day
  • Teen: 14-17 years old require 8-10 of sleep per night
  • Young adults: 18-25 years old need 7-9 hours of sleep
  • Adult: 26-64 years old need 7-9 hours of sleep per night
  • Older adults: 65 and older need 7-8 hours a night of sleep [4].

What if 6 hours feels like enough sleep?

A measly 6 hours of sleep might feel like enough for some, but that is actually just your body playing tricks on you. As we mentioned earlier, only getting 6 hours of sleep on occasion isn't likely to cause any issues; however, prolonged sleep deprivation is very serious.

The alarming thing is that you can develop a tolerance to chronic sleep deprivation. This means you might not even be aware of the serious impact this cumulative sleep deprivation is having on your body and brain [5].

So, even if you're feeling fine, it is important to be aware of the signs of sleep deprivation that might be affecting you if you're only clocking 6 hours of sleep.

Signs that you're not getting enough sleep

There are several ways you can tell if you are getting insufficient sleep. Some of the most common symptoms of poor sleep are:

  • Excessive daytime tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering things
  • Low sex drive
  • Feeling lethargic or drowsy in the afternoons
  • Difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, repeatedly hitting snooze
  • Frequently needing to nap during the day
  • Difficulty staying awake in warm rooms
  • Weight gain
  • Irregular mood changes, experiencing depression, anxiety or irritability
  • Skin problems or prematurely aged skin [6].

Sleep quality versus sleep quantity

While there is an argument for the quality of sleep versus quantity of sleep, the point remains that 6 hours sleep is simply not enough. That being said, 7 hours of uninterrupted deep sleep will make you feel better than 10 hours of fragmented sleep.

A night of quality sleep means you are likely getting enough REM sleep, which is the restorative stage in the sleep cycle. However, without the right sleep duration, you can't achieve this.

Quality sleep of at least 7 hours is much better for you, but quality and quantity must work hand in hand [7].

What are the health consequences of not enough sleep?

Not getting enough sleep can cause impaired cognitive performance, including difficulty concentrating, memory issues, slow reaction times, low mood, and brain fog.

Prolonged sleep deprivation can have extremely adverse effects on your mental and physical health, leaving you at a higher risk for health conditions such as:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • Poor mental health
  • high blood pressure
  • Low immune system.

Sleep disorders such as insomnia as well as stress, screen time, diet and lifestyle can all contribute to a poor sleep cycle [7].

Tips for getting more sleep

You can improve your sleep schedule by making simple lifestyle changes. Here are a few tips to improve your sleep to make sure you are getting enough hours of slumber:

Create a relaxing bedtime routine

A relaxing routine is a perfect way to wind down after a stressful day.

Make sure you stay away from screens for at least 30 minutes prior to going to bed and try introducing light restorative yoga or a warm bath every night before you go to sleep to help you relax.

Sleep environment

As well as a calming bedtime routine, your sleep environment is imperative to a solid night's rest.

Your room should be dark, quiet, cool and screen-free. The rule is the bedroom is for sleep and sex only, so no more late-night Netflix watching.

Change your busy schedule

This is easier said than done but if you're having trouble falling asleep, you might be too busy and need to look at rescheduling your life a little bit.

Your body's ability to relax is directly linked you your mind's ability to switch off, which is compromised if you're constantly on the go. Try shutting off from work and life worries a few hours before bedtime to give your body and mind a break. Meditation and mindfulness practices can prove helpful here.

Get active

This might sound impossible if you're suffering the effects of sleep deprivation, but getting enough exercise is essential to the sleep-wake cycle.

In fact, studies have shown that regular exercise is equally as effective as sleeping pills in some cases of insomnia [8].

Minimise caffeine

It might be tempting to consume a lot of caffeine after a sleepless night, but this creates a vicious cycle. While a couple of cups of coffee a day won't hurt you, too much caffeine can have the opposite effect and worsen your sleep issues.

Keep your coffee drinking strictly to the AM and always after you've had something to eat and a glass of water as this will allow your body to metabolise the caffeine correctly and in turn, reduce the possible effects the coffee can have on your sleep.

Stop watching TV before bed

Blue light and overstimulation are huge causes of sleep problems. Try swapping the TV for a book an hour or so before going to sleep.

Reduce your alcohol intake

Although it might help you fall asleep initially, alcohol seriously hinders the normal sleep process and reduces the quality of your sleep.

It disrupts your circadian rhythm and can cause you to sleep much longer or wake up earlier. You are also less likely to achieve REM and more likely to have interrupted and fragmented sleep after drinking.

Stick to a sleep schedule

Your circadian rhythm is the natural sleep-wake process that all humans go through. It is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle, signalling when is daytime and when is nighttime.

However, this rhythm can become dysregulated, leaving your mind confused and unable to process night and day properly. This is why a regular sleep schedule is very important.

Consistent sleep habits can help regulate and reset this rhythm, which can not only mean you experience deeper sleep but can also solve your sleep problems for good [9].

Try medication

Sometimes you can be doing all the right things, and the sleep still won't come, but getting a good night's sleep isn't just a dream. Pilot's sleep support is designed to help you fall (and stay) asleep so your body and mind can rest and recover. Our treatment plans works to regulate the sleep cycle and improve sleep quality without daytime drowsiness.

Simply take our text-based quiz and an Aussie doctor will create a sleep plan just for you.

Long, deep sleep is possible!

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