How Long Should I Sleep? Part of our quick fire series - what's the golden number of hours?

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Between seven and eight hours a night. That’s how long you should sleep for.  There’s a few of us that are okay with as little as six and some need nine.  Those who need less than six are in the extreme minority, 1 – 5% of the population.  

The research is mature and very clear on this.

Getting less than seven hours increases cancer risk, heart problems, infection risk and your chances of catching a cold; it reduces your cognitive ability, your ability to learn and your emotional intelligence; it makes you eat more, put on weight faster and increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. Need more convincing? 

Your brain and body do not repeat the same thing every hour you are asleep.  You cycle through different stages of sleep in different orders and duration during the night.  These different stages and steps benefit you in different ways; from ordering and storing what you’ve learnt that day, repairing the body, flushing out toxins from the brain or developing new concepts and ideas.  If you get less than seven hours, you’re not getting the full benefit of sleep. You might, for example, miss out on the last few hours of sleep when the consolidation of new information is at its peak.

Remember, you are – everybody is – terrible at judging how tired and under-performing you are.  People consistently underestimate their levels of impairment. It’s like asking a drunk person how drunk they are.  Those exposed to prolonged sleep deprivation (a few days of less than seven hours sleep) get used to their impaired performance. They get used to being slower, less energetic, less creative and having poorer health.  If you’re sleeping less than seven hours and think you’re fine, it’s very likely you’ll be in this category and performing well below your peak. Again, between seven and eight hours a night. That’s how long you should sleep for. 

Written by
Sam Billington

Sam is our sleep guru. I am fascinated by sleep and I've used my science training to research and learn about sleep. I have been providing sleep advice and personal sleep plans for years. My day job is Head of Workplace Culture in Defra, I live in London with my wife and have a PhD in Ecology and Biology.