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Why do some people need less sleep than others



sleep mask

Sarah Mitroff / CNET

Are you the friend who lights the candle on both sides or the friend who spends 10 hours in bed on an ideal day? Neither is right or wrong, and one is no better than the other ̵

1; they are just different, and both are equally valid.

If you have always felt the need to sleep more than the often recommended eight hours per night you may be wondering why you need as much sleep as others can attack the day with just five to six hours of rest. In this article, experts explain why some people need less sleep than others.

read more: The best sleep masks for 2020

How Much Sleep Do People Really Need?

Sleep recommendations are something like water recommendations. No one knows exactly how much water people need each day, so there isn’t one “best” recommendation – the same is true for sleep.

While most sleep experts recommend seven to nine hours a night, Annie Miller, a therapist at DC Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy, tells CNET that people shouldn’t feel pressured by this number. “Historically, one uninterrupted sleep period was not always the norm,” she says. (Historians and anthropologists believe that people used to sleep biphasic sleep, or sleep in two ‘shifts’.)

The origins of the eight-hour ideal remain unclear, but the post-industrial standardization of school and work schedules is probably to blame. Regardless, the need to meet this standard “has certainly contributed to many people’s insomnia,” Miller says. “If we feel like we need to sleep more or that we’re not doing well, our sleep will suffer.”

Related: Not getting enough sleep? How sleep deprivation destroys your body

Do some people need less sleep?

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If you don’t mind working late at night, you are of course a short sleeper.

Getty Images

Some people might scoff when others say they only need four to six hours of sleep a night, but for a percentage of the population, that’s the truth, says Dr. Allison Brager, Ph.D, performance engineer at Momentous.

In general, high achievers tend to sleep less, Brager tells CNET. “When you look at US presidents, successful CEOs and military leaders, many say they sleep little but feel fine and don’t need stimulants to stay awake,” she says. “Daily sleep needs fall along the bell curve, like most physiological processes in nature. The average is eight hours of nocturnal sleep, but there are individuals who fall to the left or to the right due to genetic evidence.”

Scientists even discovered a “short sleep gene” in 2019. People with this gene naturally sleep less than 6.5 hours a night “with no apparent ill effect,” reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This discovery is, of course, a small piece of the great sleep puzzle, but it does prove that sleep needs are highly individual and influenced by genetics.

Related: How do you know if you have insomnia and what to do about it?

Do some people need more sleep?

On the other hand, some people need extra sleep to function optimally. While there is no evidence (yet) of a “long sleep gene” like the short sleep gene, Miller says she would not be surprised to hear about such a discovery in the future. “Our sleep needs are largely genetic,” she says, so it would make sense.

However, you don’t need a study to tell you how much sleep you need. Most adults know how much sleep they need to feel refreshed and energized. If you’re feeling your best with 9 to 10 hours of sleep versus 7 to 8 hours, then you should get as much sleep as time allows, Miller says.

Related: Sleeping supplements can help you snooze, but they are not a cure for poor sleep

Sleep needs change in your lifetime

Another factor worth considering is your age, Miller says. Sleep needs change over the course of your life. According to the National Sleep Foundation, those needs are:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14 to 17 hours a day
  • Babies (4-11 months): 12 to 15 hours a day
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11 to 14 hours a day
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10am to 1pm
  • School-aged children (6-13): 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 a.m.
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7 to 9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7 to 9 hours
  • Older adults (65 years and older): 7 to 8 hours

Other factors that affect how much sleep you need

People dealing with chronic illnesses, autoimmune diseases, or other medical problems may need more sleep than others. If you have a very labor-intensive job, such as construction work, you may need more sleep than someone working at a desk simply because your body takes longer to recover. Likewise, athletes prioritize sleep and most likely sleep more than the average person because their lifestyle and career depend on it.

Ultimately, “it’s important to focus on what feels right for our bodies, not what we think we should be doing,” Miller says.

Related: We all sleep worse because of COVID-19, research shows

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care practitioner if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.


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