How Many Hours Sleep Do You Actually Need?

sleep Apr 27, 2020

It’s not surprising that many of the parents of self-harming young people that we help have problems sleeping. The stress, anxiety and worries about the future play on their minds and eat into their sleep.

Parents either tell us that they struggle to fall asleep or have restless sleep full of troubling dreams which mirrors their mental and emotional state.

Either way it’s so much harder to be calm, positive, patient, optimistic when your craving an opportunity to crawl into bed.

But how much sleep do we ACTUALLY NEED?

It’s commonly thought that 8 hours of sleep a night is the magic number.

And the evidence shows this is correct,

In one of many experiments, researchers took study participants into a laboratory with no sunlight or clocks and, at night, gave them nine-hour-long opportunity to sleep. The results were always the same: even when provided with more time, humans will typically spend an average of eight hours catching up on their Zzz.

So what happens when we get less than the 8 hours a night?

It turns out – a lot!

Sleep researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Walter Reed Army Research Institute allowed subject varying hours of sleep over a two-week period – they got 8, 6, 4 and 0 hours per night (ouch).

They observed (and subsequent studies have confirmed) that to your brain, one sleepless night is the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

The participants that got eight hours of sleep each night had no change to their cognitive performance – as expected.

But after just 10 days those that slept six hours each night were as cognitively impaired as those suffering from a night of total sleep deprivation.

And the group that got four hours? It only took them three days before they reached that same level of impairment.

By 10 days in, they were as cognitively impaired as if they had gone two days with no sleep.

And things got worse the longer they maintained the 6 hours per night.

So, how much sleep can you take away from the recommended 8 hours before someone becomes cognitively impaired?

Sorry, but the answer is less than one hour.

Some of you reading will be laughing here, thinking you regularly get 6 hours sleep or less a night and FEEL FINE.

But the studies have shown that in cognitive tests of those allowed 6 hours sleep a night, the participants THOUGHT they did well in the tests, BUT actually did SIGNIFICANTLY WORSE than when they’d been allowed the full 8 hours.

You just don’t realise that you’re sleep deprived when you’re sleep deprived. That’s why so many people fool themselves into thinking they are one of those people who can get away with six hours of sleep or less.

Don’t let that be you.


We’ll be publishing an article on ‘Sleep Hygiene’ in our blog very soon. This will give you simple but effective advice on how to fall asleep and how to get restful sleep - so watch this space.

Thanks, and look forward to seeing you again soon.

P.S. Make sure you CHECK OUT the FREE resources we got available for parents of self-harming tweens and teens here:

DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE BOOKLET and learn how a mother led her self-harming teenage child back to health & happiness:

WATCH THIS VIDEO where Joel & Claire Sutton, founders of The Horizon Plan, explain how parents can play a huge role guiding their self-harming child back to health and happiness:


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