What Is Your Ideal Amount of Sleep Per Night?

Yesterday I read a fascinating article about a family in which multiple people only need 5 hours a sleep each night, resulting in studies that isolated multiple genes related to “short sleep.” That is, there are people who are genetically predisposed to being just as functional and healthy on 5 hours of sleep each night as most people are on 7-8 hours.

This piqued my curiosity for a few reasons. First, I highly value my time, and I rarely feel like I have enough of it. Imagine what you could do with 3 extra waking hours every day! I would love that extra creative time.

Second, has the amount of sleep you need each night evolved over time? I think I averaged around 8-8.5 hours in my 20s (if I shorted my sleep during those days, I would get migraines), and throughout my 30s that number shifted down to around 7-7.5 hours. I’m able to monitor my nightly average pretty easily because I wake up naturally after that amount of time–I haven’t set an alarm in years (though my cats tend to serve as alarms in the rare occasions I oversleep).

Third, I’m intrigued by the implications of the sleep gene research. Someday will there be a form of gene therapy that adds these helpful mutations, allowing you to operate at full capacity on 5 hours a night?

The article delves into how people with this combination of sleep genes seem to be just as healthy as people who sleep 7-8 hours a night, and their personality types are remarkably similar: They’re motivated, optimistic, and goal oriented (many of them run marathons).

What do you think about all of this, and how many hours of sleep do you get each night if you don’t set an alarm?

12 thoughts on “What Is Your Ideal Amount of Sleep Per Night?”

  1. I remember once coming across this concept called the uberman sleep schedule or extreme polyphasic sleep that I find fascinating. It hasn’t been widely studied, but there’s some evidence that suggests amount of sleep someone needs is inversely proportional to the number of sleep periods observed. This kind of makes sense if you know anyone that sleeps less at night but has an afternoon power nap, if they need 8 hours normally they might be able to get 7 and change across the two sleeps. Pushed to extremes it can be a schedule of something like a 30 minute nap every 4 hours which is drastically less sleep than the 2 to 1 ratio of wake to sleep most people need. Some case studies of people who try it talk about how rigid the schedule is and how hard even small deviations from the schedule hit them, but it certainly gives them more time. Seems like most people give it up because of how the wider world operates. There’s some historical evidence that creatives like Da Vinci and Tesla might have observed such a schedule during points in their life. If I could nap at work, I would consider trying it.

    • Check out the work of Thomas Wehr

      Results of a photoperiod experiment show that human sleep can be unconsolidated and polyphasic, like the sleep of other animals. When normal individuals were transferred from a conventional 16-h photoperiod to an experimental 10-h photo-period, their sleep episodes expanded and usually divided into two symmetrical bouts, several hours in duration, with a 1–3 h waking interval between them. The durations of nocturnal melatonin secretion and of the nocturnal phase of rising sleepiness (measured in a constant routine protocol) also expanded, indicating that the timing of internal processes that control sleep and melatonin, such as circadian rhythms, had been modified by the change in photoperiod. Previous work suggests that the experimental results could be simulated with dual-oscillators, entrained separately to dawn and dusk, or with a two-process model, having a lowered threshold for sleep-onset during the scotoperiod.


  2. I had just read the article when I saw your notification to this post.

    I found the article amazing and I wonder if genomic tests include those genes mentioned.

    My grandfather used to sleep 4-5 hours per night and I remember envying him a lot. And over the years I started feeling less and less need of longer sleep cycles. I’m over 40 now and I usually sleep 5-6 hours a night. I can definitely sleep more, but that amount is enough for me, it seems.

    Do you measure your sleep cycle with any device? I have learned a lot from doing that in the past 2 years.

    • I use the Sleeptalk app, though it isn’t really designed for monitoring sleep cycles. It shows me some interesting things about the night, though.

  3. Jamey,

    Whether I set an alarm or not, I’ll get no more than 7 hours, and regularly get 6-6.5 hours per night. I’m a night owl by design, but 26 years in the Air Force have conditioned me as a morning person, as well. You do need less sleep as you get older based on studies for over 20 years and I both subscribe to it and could serve as its poster child.

  4. Nancy Kress wrote a fascinating series of Novels that is partly based on the idea of being able to genetically alter your need for sleep. There is a group of people who are genetically modified to not need any sleep at all. Those people end up being tremendously productive, along with other side-effects. It ultimately causes major societal shifts.

    Beggars In Spain is the first book in the series. Definitely worth a read.

  5. What I have observed is that It depends a lot on your diet & mental health. Whenever I am happy & eating good, I need a relatively little amount of sleep, but when I am going through some sort of emotional drama or going wrong on my diet, I need a lot of sleep and even then I don’t feel much energized or refreshed.

    Have you observed any sort of relation between diet and mood with sleep?

    Looking forward to your response.

    • That’s an interesting observation, and I can see a correlation there. When I’m stressed, I don’t sleep as deeply, which can means that I wake up later. As for diet, I’m not sure I’ve noticed it quite as much.


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