How much sleep do we really need?

As a college student I value any amount of sleep that I can sneak in to my productive schedule. Some nights I sleep for 14 hours and some nights I sleep for 2 hours and there are nights where I don’t sleep at all. Recently in my psychology course we learned about sleep and what I took away was that it is still not very well understood. People don’t really know why we sleep. The mechanism is unclear. There have been suggestions that REM sleep may be the most important because after not sleep for a long period of time you will immediately go into REM rebound where the intensity and length of REM sleep is increased. While the mechanism may not be clear, people still need to sleep and we spend a good portion of our lives doing so. If people need sleep, then how much sleep is optimal?

Eight hours always seems to be the magic number. It has been circulating for years and this is what parents tell their children when they are tired. Is 8 hours really the optimal time for sleeping? Lunky enough, the National Sleep Foundation put together a study which ended up being a meta-analysis of roughly 300 publications on sleep. They said that they cannot give an exact number for recommend sleep because everyone is unique but a sleep recommendation chart was crafted HERE. Our age group or “young adults (18-25)” is recommended to get about 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Being that this study is a meta-analysis, this information is most likely truthful, especially with a number like 300 studies. Students who are looking for the optimal amount of sleep should stick to around 7-9 hours.


The National sleep foundation explored only traditional sleeping patterns. I have recently heard that sleeping in two 4 hour segments is more effective than the traditional full 8 hours or so of sleep. While I engage in a monophasic sleep or the average 8 hours of sleep in one night, some partake in polyphasic sleeping patterns. These include:

“* The Biphasic Schedule: Two three-to-four-hour sleeps with an hour of awake time in the middle.

* The Dymaxion Sleep Schedule: 30-minute “naps” every 6 hours.

* The Uberman Schedule: Six 30-minute naps per day.

* The Everyman Schedule: A daily three-hour sleep plus three 20-minute naps.”

(found here)

However, most of these methods lack concrete evidence that they are better, a study reported that most animals on earth are polyphasic sleepers. I believe that more work needs to be done on this subject and a structured experiment may help. If I had the resources, I would put together an experiment that was a randomized controlled trial where the control group would sleep 8 hours and the “treatment group” would test out one of the polyphasic sleep schedules and see the difference if there is any.

The take away message is that yes, you should listen to that old wives tale that you need 8 hours of sleep.  With a meta-analysis as evidence any one can be almost certain that this is the correct number of hours to sleep. Although it may not be the amount of time that you sleep that makes you feel the most rested but rather the schedule of your sleep. So if you’re feeling adventurous, give one of these methods a try and let us know how it works out.

6 thoughts on “How much sleep do we really need?

  1. Jacob Alexander Loffredo

    As I start typing this comment at 3:35 am I truly need to learn the significance of sleep. While reading this blog, seeing that the national sleep organization says that kids at age 18 need 7-9 hours per night that simply makes me cringe. I have been a Penn State student for more than 3 months now and I might have gotten 9 hours of sleep 1 time if I am lucky. I think many of us can agree we don’t get the necessary amount we need, which leads me to another interesting question; can we train our bodies to need very minimal amounts of sleep?? Here is an article that explains the question I just presented about whether or not we can train ourselves to sleep less. I am surely one who loves my sleep but at the same time I love to be productive and I really think that people don’t need as much as doctors say we do.

  2. Caroline Sorrentino

    This is a great post especially for college students! I can’t believe that some nights you hardly sleep at all. I could never pull that off. I usually end up getting around 8 hours of sleep every night and still barely thrive here. I know that pledging is a reason college students don’t sleep a lot as well as school work. I researched some ways to keep people on track procrastination wise. These tips are helpful to keep you motivated and on task. I know when I write out a daily schedule and follow it religiously, I can make it to bed on time.

  3. Derek William Drotman

    As a college student I think many of us go through the dilemma of either sleeping too much some nights to not getting enough sleep. It still blows my mind how late I have gone to bed but after weeks and weeks I believe my body has adjusted. In high school I would go to sleep at 10-11 pm and wakeup at 7 am, this put me in the range of the recommended amount of sleep. Now I usually go to sleep at 2 am and wakeup around 9. As late as I go to bed I still have been getting the same amount of hours which must be why my body isn’t a tired. Here is a good article which tells you how many hours a person should sleep based on their age!

  4. Luyi Yao

    This post is great! I’ve heard about a theory that humans actually don’t need sleep at all. I learn in the PSYCH 100 that sleep deprivation can lead to many bad consequences. For example, emotional functioning: can’t regulate emotion, be frustrated easily; behavior functioning: eat more or less, less exercise, more smoke; and physical functioning: increase the risk to overweight. So no matter how long we should sleep, we need to maintain healthy sleeping time (7 HOURS A DAY!).

  5. lkv5058

    This is interesting and very well done. One dilemma with these sleeping schedules is practicality with most adults working most the day, there is not much time for periodic naps every few hours. In college, however, it is more practical as we can schedule our classes around it. Hopefully some more studies are done soon with more concrete evidence. Thanks for your post.

  6. tmv5147

    Really great post. This has been something that I have wondered about for a while because the only thing worse than not getting enough sleep is getting too much sleep and yes from time to time that’s really great but we all know how that feels. One strange thing about sleeping habits that I heard last year was that when you wake up you’re not rested from that night but the night before. It really got me thinking, if you wake up Monday your body isn’t functioning on the rest from Sunday it’s the rest from Saturday night. What about when we wake up Wednesday morning after staying up all night doing homework and we feel like we can’t move, but Monday night you got a solid 8-9 hours of sleep. I always try and keep my sleep schedule constant, except on weekends, but I would like to see a study that did something like that. Obviously everyone functions differently, there’s that one person who can go to sleep at 3 in the morning every night and be fine the next day and then you have the person who is out cold at midnight. I feel like that’s why studying sleep is so hard because you can’t control when your participants go to sleep and wake up.

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