Always Running on 6 Hours of Sleep? Experts Explain Why You Should Aim For More

Caitlin Flynn
·3 min read
Young black woman sleeping in a bed.
Young black woman sleeping in a bed.

With a massive to-do list of personal and professional obligations, it's common to sacrifice sleep in an effort to get it all done. A 2019 study published in the Journal of Community Health found that nearly 36 percent of working adults are getting less than seven hours of sleep per night. But is six hours of sleep enough? Experts agree that, even if you feel OK, consistently sleeping six hours a night is inadequate.

How Much Sleep Should You Be Getting?

Rebecca Robbins, PhD, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and sleep researcher, told POPSUGAR that a large body of evidence overwhelmingly shows that between seven to nine hours of sleep per night is beneficial "in terms of optimal health, well-being, performance, and longevity." Dr. Robbins said it's important to note that, because it takes the average person at least 15 minutes to fall asleep, someone who thinks they're getting seven hours of sleep each night may actually be sleeping much less.

"Therefore, we should strive to add at least 15 minutes to the time we're in bed attempting to sleep to make sure we can hit our personal sleep need," Dr. Robbins said.

Alex Dimitriu, MD, a double board-certified physician in psychiatry and sleep medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, agreed, noting that you may need to allot even more time to make sure you're getting adequate sleep on nights when it doesn't come easily. "Aiming for eight hours most often results in about seven and similarly, aiming for six - which is already not enough - can in reality turn into five hours of sleep," Dr. Dimitriu said. He recommends creating an eight-hour "opportunity" window for sleep, which will hopefully result in at least seven hours of actual sleep time.

Related: Staying Up Too Late Only to Feel Exhausted During the Day? Here's How to Break the Habit

What If You Feel Fine on 6 Hours of Sleep?

If you consistently get six hours of sleep and feel fine, you may think you're an exception. But both Dr. Robbins and Dr. Dimitriu told POPSUGAR that this is seldom the case. "While many people say they do just fine on six or less hours, when we study people in the laboratory with this claim, few are able to pass muster on our tests of performance, health, and vigilance," Dr. Robbins said.

Similarly, Dr. Dimitriu noted that multiple studies on sleep times have shown that people who don't get enough sleep simply don't realize they'd feel much better if they slept more. "In prior studies, it's been demonstrated that when people are asked to sleep an additional hour per night, even people who felt fine at the beginning of the study felt better after a month of sleeping more," he explained. "With sleep and sleep loss, many people may actually not know what they are missing, until they consistently get more sleep."

When it comes to getting more sleep, Dr. Dimitriu said that it usually takes more than one night to feel the benefits - so stick with it, even if you don't notice an immediate change. "Good sleep is like the gym," he said. "A single day won't do much, but a month will."