Sleep management
July 26, 2009 1:32 PM   Subscribe

What is the least amount of sleep you can do with, as an adult without feeling tired or sloppy or disoriented? And How to get the deepest sleep in those few hours? Any tips?
posted by inquisitive to Health & Fitness (37 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
seems to vary by person, and of course your daily activity level will factor in.

For me, I can run on 4 hours a night for a long time. Exercise in the day helps me sleep more deeply.
posted by Billegible at 1:36 PM on July 26, 2009

Is this a survey? Five hours, with an occasional fourteen hour crash every couple of weeks.
posted by rokusan at 1:40 PM on July 26, 2009

Response by poster: Also How do you make yourself wake up regularly after those minimum hours of sleep?
posted by inquisitive at 1:45 PM on July 26, 2009

I do best with between seven and eight. I wake up by using an alarm clock out of comfortable reach and having something interesting to do when I wake up.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:53 PM on July 26, 2009

I would imagine that factors like age, diet and exercise would play into this.

Anecdotally, five hours a night for almost twenty years. Occasional eight hour recharges on the weekends. Never really been able to sleep much longer even if I wanted to so I can't answer your follow up question. I wake up before my alarm clock most mornings.

Noticeable side effects: perpetual dark circles under the eyes.

Is 'anecdotally' not a word? Is my spell checker wrong or am I?
posted by JaredSeth at 1:55 PM on July 26, 2009

I usually get six or seven hours a night, which won't set any records. I find that less than that makes me crash out on the couch by 8:30 in the evening.

To get myself out of bed I have an annoying alarm that I physically have to get out of the bed to disarm. Since I get up two hours before my missus she ensures I switch it off ASAP.
posted by man down under at 1:55 PM on July 26, 2009

Seconding Billegible's exercise suggestion. On the days that I go running, I sleep better. On the days that I sit at my desk all day in front of the computer, it takes longer for me to fall asleep and I don't feel as refreshed.

One common bit of advice is to only use your bed for sleeping (as opposed to, say, surfing the net on a laptop). I haven't noticed much of a difference personally, though.

As for the least amount of sleep needed: I need about seven, but I suspect that everyone is different. Age seems to be the biggest factor for me, as I haven't had made any drastic lifestyle changes but have had wildly different sleeping patterns over the years. I can't sleep past 10 am nowadays even if I want to!

I make myself wake up regularly with an alarm clock -- no special advice there.
posted by danb at 1:55 PM on July 26, 2009

Consistency seems to be the key. If you can't get used to the 'minimum' amount of sleep in a fairly short period of time, chances are your minimum is more than you're trying to get.
posted by HFSH at 1:55 PM on July 26, 2009

The minimum sleep periods a person can sustain also vary with age. Younger and older people often tend to need more sleep. I was a 4 hour a day sleeper for most of my 20s to late 40s, but for the past 10 years, I seem now to need a minimum of 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night, to function well, consistently.

As for waking up, coffee and a shower are still the reliable "start of day" triggers for me. It used to be coffee and a cigarette, but that's all water under the bridge these last 3 years.
posted by paulsc at 1:55 PM on July 26, 2009

Response by poster: I am trying to figure out whether its ok to have just 5-6 hours of sleep every day. And then the next thing is how to make my body accustomed to this amount of sleep.
posted by inquisitive at 1:56 PM on July 26, 2009

Well some people have reported success with a polyphasic sleep schedule where they get a total of 2 hours of sleep a day. They nap for 20 minutes every 4 hours.
posted by losvedir at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2009

How do you make yourself wake up regularly after those minimum hours of sleep?

I can actually set myself to wake up at a specific time. It's weird, but it always works, no matter how little sleep I'm allowing myself. Discovered it when I was staying with my grandfolks as a teen and had no alarm: if I repeat the current time, the time I want to wake up, and how many hours I will sleep over and over a few times while falling asleep, then I always wake up at exactly that time. Very freaky, especially considering my waking sense of time is terrible, but it's never failed me.

I am trying to figure out whether its ok to have just 5-6 hours of sleep every day. And then the next thing is how to make my body accustomed to this amount of sleep.

All you can do is try it for a week and see what happens.
posted by Billegible at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

At age 44, five hours is the least I can get away with. Six is doable. Seven is luxurious.

When it's do or die time, I use (synthesized) melatonin to get to deep sleep. 3mg. No side-effects, except a rapidly dissipating drowsiness as opposed to day-long exhaustion.

At times where sleep is going to be minimal, I avoid caffeine. No tea, cola, coffee or chocolate. It creates moodiness, crankiness, nervousness, and sleeplessness.

The exercise suggestion is also good. If I get a good three or four mile run in, then it is as if my body processes out garbage that makes me tired. I work and sleep better with minimal but consistent excercise and work-out.

Regarding diet, heavy meats take to much out of me. I have up chicken beef pork horse and goat years and years ago. Now its all fish and vegetables, mostly vegetables, along with some starches for carbs for energy.
posted by Mike Mongo at 2:05 PM on July 26, 2009

There is something called Polyphasic Sleep, where people will nap like, six times a day for twenty minutes each, and that's all they need - reminds me of how some cats eat. They don't eat three meals a day - they basically snack the whole day. This wikipedia entry has more info on Polyphasic sleeping, as well as a list of people who are experimenting with this sleeping pattern and blogging about their experiences.
posted by Sully at 2:08 PM on July 26, 2009

I work in an industry that allows very little sleep. In polling friends and coworkers over the years, it seems like most people have 2, 3 or 4 hour sleep cycles. For instance, I can do fine on 3, 6 or 9 hours sleep. If I get 2, 5, 7 etcetc I'm like a zombie. Some people I work with operate on 2 or 4 hour cycles. Once you find your cycle time, you can play around. YMMV, obviously.
posted by nevercalm at 2:45 PM on July 26, 2009

I used to say that 7 hours was my optimum. Less or more than that and I'd feel drowsy and/or stressed. But after years of living under that delusion and the effects of ALWAYS oversleeping, I realized that I need 9. If I plan for 9 hours, I am consistently up at the right time, ready to tackle the day. Occasionally up even earlier.

I suspect I have a bit of the apnea, so if I cared to correct that, I could probably get by on less.

As for making your body accept less sleep, I would imagine there are two ways. One, figuring out how to make those 5 hours count. Or two, figuring out how to cope with less sleep. Not enough sleep (whatever that number) is going to add stress to your body. Finding ways to cope with that stress will make it more doable. But the best answer is to figure out how much sleep you NEED and plan your day accordingly. My choice was doing more in a day and being constantly miserable, or doing slightly less and being happy about it.
posted by gjc at 2:49 PM on July 26, 2009

6-7 or 9-10 works for me, well. I really dislike less than 6, but I can do it for a day. 8 or more than 10 usually makes me a zombie for some reason.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 3:07 PM on July 26, 2009

I need - need - six a night. Less and I start to go crazy. Happy begins at more like nine.
posted by you're a kitty! at 3:22 PM on July 26, 2009

Man, you people. I can maybe survive on 7 for weeknights, if I make it up with naps & sleeping in weekends. Ideally, I get 9-10. Under 7 for more than one night reduces me to useless, miserable zombie. I am not totally clear on whether I need more sleep than most people to feel normal because I need more sleep or because I am less tolerant of feeling tired. I also work out a lot, which ends up necessitating *more* sleep, even as it is more satisfying.

I get up because I have things I want to do. And I don't snooze. Snoozing is the enemy.
posted by dame at 3:31 PM on July 26, 2009

This is a biological variable-- some people need more, some need less; some are better getting up early, some are more nocturnal (that's another sleep related dimension on which people vary and the way they are seems to be set by birth, though there are age related shifts for everyone)

The stress of sleeping too little is seriously unhealthy-- linked with all sorts of diseases (because it lowers your immune system), high blood pressure (which puts you at risk for heart attack and stroke), obesity (which increases the risks of all of the above) and other problems. Sleeping too much also carries increased mortality risk, though no one knows why.

Anyway, point is that anyone who says that *everyone* can get by on X hours is wrong. You have to figure out what works for you and not take seriously uninformed people who call you "lazy" if you need more.
posted by Maias at 3:44 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

For me, near age 40, I feel like I function satisfactorily on 6 hours of sleep. At 5 I'm not well-focused, and at 4, I'm dragging. At the same time I also suspect that 8 hours a night would be better in the long term, though just one night of 8 hours of sleep doesn't feel much better than six. I remember in my 20s when I was a bachelor and lived a very healthy lifestyle I would normally put in about 9 hours and could do up to 12 if I really felt lazy.

As far as how to get the deepest sleep, cut down on all noise and light. Use blackout curtains and white noise if necessary. Make the room cooler. Avoid alcohol and food portions close to bedtime, and any caffeine within 12 hours of bedtime. I can't think of anything else.
posted by crapmatic at 3:49 PM on July 26, 2009

Three to six with an occasional crash day. I can pull all-nighters still, but not two all-nighters. 42.
posted by maxwelton at 4:09 PM on July 26, 2009

Geez, you people. I'm in my mid-twenties and I still need 8 to 9 hours of sleep to feel well rested. I sleep up to 10 hours on weekends, when I can, though the weekend norm is becoming closer to around 8, whereas a few years ago it was closer to 12. If I get 7 or fewer hours for a few nights in a row, it really starts to take its toll on me. All-nighters are almost entirely out of the picture for me at this point—I just can't stay up that late anymore.
posted by limeonaire at 4:23 PM on July 26, 2009

Considering how individual these answers are, I would suggest you try to figure out your own. Every morning when you wake up, write down how much you slept that night, and then around dinnertime rate yourself on the Epworth sleepiness scale for the day. It's possible to accumulate sleep "debt", so it's relevant to consider your cumulative sleep over the last few days in interpreting your drowsiness.
posted by d. z. wang at 4:33 PM on July 26, 2009

For instance, I can do fine on 3, 6 or 9 hours sleep. If I get 2, 5, 7 etcetc I'm like a zombie.

This sounds about right. There are times where I'll get a decent amount of sleep on a weeknight (for me), and still feel groggy as hell at work the next day. Other times I'll get maybe 4 hours, and feel fairly awake. Of course, I end up paying for it later on, but it's still an odd phenomenon. I'll have to start keeping track of that sorta thing. It does seem that it's not strictly the amount of sleep you get, but the number of cycles.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 4:41 PM on July 26, 2009

Eight or nine hours leaves me cheerful, smart and productive. I can manage on seven, but I'm cranky and I have trouble concentrating. Five is a bare bones: don't drive into a tree minimum... but after a few days on supposed bare minimum I fall apart (crying, walking into things). Sometimes, to catch up, I'll sleep for 14 or so.

I once had a professor who claimed to need only six, but he was spacey and rude. I often wonder if many people who say they NEED less sleep are actually operating far below their potential.

To get to sleep, I relax before bedtime. To stay asleep I run an air purifier that makes a nice white noise.
posted by debbie_ann at 4:59 PM on July 26, 2009

Most days I get 7-7.5 and I do pretty well on that. 6 or less and I am a cranky PITA you do not want to be around.

I definitely have sleep cycles and there are certain hours of the morning that I can wake up easily and times when I can't. I can get up at 5:45 or 6, or I can get up at 7:30, but 6:45 kills me, and it must be because of where my brain is in the sleep cycle at that time.

When I was unemployed for a longish stretch I was able to just sleep and wake up whenever, and I noticed that I was happiest/felt best when I'd had 9 hours of horizontal time in bed. Not necessarily sleeping, and not reading in bed or watching TV, but falling asleep/sleeping/gently waking up.

My life doesn't allow me a 9-hour stretch in bed anymore, but it was nice while it lasted.
posted by ambrosia at 5:03 PM on July 26, 2009

When I had to be at work at 7:30 am, I used a Sleeptracker watch. I really felt it helped me. If you have ever woken up too early feeling great, then decided to sleep the last hour only to wake up feeling like hell then you can understand how it might work. I only stopped using it because I don't have to be in to work so early now.
posted by InkaLomax at 5:16 PM on July 26, 2009

It's called modafinil.
posted by turkeyphant at 5:55 PM on July 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I sleep about six to eight hours a night, sometimes less, rarely more. I used to be an erratic sleeper, but since I started going to to bed and get up at roughly the same time every day, I have found it a million times easier to get up in the mornings.
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:16 PM on July 26, 2009

If I sleep till I'm rested, I sleep nine hours. I can "get by" on eight, less than that and I'm not going to get any work done. (I'm a screenwriter. If I had an office job I could probably get by on 7.)
posted by musofire at 7:51 PM on July 26, 2009

my doctor always told me that because of my low blood pressure (90/40), i'll 'live forever, but sleep through most of it.' i can survive on 6 hours a night, but ideally i get more like 10.
posted by chicago2penn at 9:40 PM on July 26, 2009

5-6 hours during the work week. I keep a written list of what needs done, otherwise I cycle through things in my head. I've woken up during the night to add to my list before. A hot shower and some stretching are relaxing and help me sleep also.
posted by shinyshiny at 11:08 PM on July 26, 2009

It's mostly 90 minute cycles, for me, so if I'm awake within an hour or so of my alarm going off there's no point in going back to sleep, and when I pulled "all-nighters" in college a 90-minute nap usually got me through the day. I do recall hearing that it's different the longer you sleep - you start off with longer REM cycles, and then they get shorter the longer you've been asleep. But I've also heard that you can train yourself to enter REM faster and just generally get by on less sleep (see the polyphasic sleep people and their 20-minute sleep cycles).

But I'm in my early twenties and most days, to really be functioning where I want to be, I need 8-9 hours of sleep. If there's more sunlight I can get up earlier, but find myself becoming tired earlier at night as well. A lot of it will depend on your personal tolerance for tiredness; mine has fallen significantly over the last few years.
posted by Lady Li at 11:34 PM on July 26, 2009

I am trying to figure out whether its ok to have just 5-6 hours of sleep every day. And then the next thing is how to make my body accustomed to this amount of sleep.

I'm sure it's a truism that the more kids you have, the less sleep you get. With three kids, I see some of the answers above and just drip jealousy. Eight hours? You kidding?

I've been operating on 5-6 hours of sleep a night for a long, long time. My job often requires less than that; just 3-4 hours to zero over a 48 hour period, depending on the pressures involved. However, a 48 hour stretch without sleep always requires some heavy sleep afterwards; unless you have a specific medical condition, you can't operate without sleep after a certain period of time.

Because I can only speak from personal experience, I find it hard to believe that people can't operate on less than seven hours sleep. When the baby finishes it's final feed at midnight, and the two-year-old gets up each morning at six, what options do you have but to operate with six hours of sleep?

My experience has been people adapt to the conditions they're under pretty quickly. Some people dont' do as well - I've had to send people home from work, or stop people coming in the next day, due to their tiredness affecting their wellbeing and the working conditions of others. But most people can cope for three or four months on very low sleep conditions.
posted by Neale at 11:58 PM on July 26, 2009

I really think the minimal amount of sleep that you can do with is about 3 to 4 hours per night. Anything less than that and you are in serious trouble!
posted by slimco65 at 3:00 AM on July 27, 2009

I'm 24 & I need 3 hours to feel rested & energetic, but if I get less or more than that it's got to divide into increments of 45 minutes evenly or I feel utterly exhausted. I think that might have something to do with the length of the REM cycle, but I've never looked into it before. I fall asleep rather quickly because my days are super busy, but will sleep poorly if I turn in without making sure everything I need for the next day is organized & ready to go. Black out curtains also are a must. I can deal with the sounds of the busy downtown, but car lights going by and other street lighting can disturb me.
posted by zarah at 4:53 AM on July 27, 2009

« Older We need a bulldog minus the 70 pounds of drool and...   |   Italian wine shops in London? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.