Is Six Hours of Sleep Enough? Here’s What The Experts Say.

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While you may look forward to crawling into bed and getting some much-needed sleep, part of you may wish you needed less of this essential habit. How many people have dreamt of somehow having more hours in the day? 

Sometimes it may seem that the easiest way to add time to your life would be to cut out some sleep. Experts don’t always agree on the ideal amount of sleep, and it can feel hard to find consistent information. Is six hours of sleep enough? Seven or less? How much sleep do you really need? We’re here to tell you what the evidence and experts say.

Long Story Short

  • Six hours of sleep per night is not enough: Experts recommend seven to eight hours.
  • Sleep deprivation can cause problems with memory, concentration, behavior, problem-solving, and decision-making.
  • You can get a better night’s sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene, which includes getting seven or more hours of sleep per night consistently, creating a comfortable sleeping environment, and avoiding screens before bed.

Is Six Hours of Sleep Enough?

Experts recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep each night on average, which leaves six hours of snoozing just outside optimal. “It’s possible to have a six-hour sleep need, but that possibility is slim,” Dr. Chester Wu, MD, sleep medicine physician in Houston, TX, tells Sleepopolis. “How much sleep you need is very individual, and everyone’s needs are a little different,” Wu adds. 

The Short Sleep Gene

Some lucky few, called natural short sleepers, have a gene mutation that means they only need four to six hours of sleep a day. They can get by on less sleep with no negative effects. This differs from insomnia in that these sleepers don’t have trouble drifting off, and report their sleep quality is good.

Recommended Hours of Sleep by Age

Our sleep needs evolve as we grow from infancy to adulthood. Babies need a lot of sleep in their first year, but this quota decreases steadily until adulthood. Here’s how much sleep you need depending on your age:

  • Newborns 4 to 12 months: 12 to 16 hours a day 
  • Children 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours a day 
  • Children 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours a day
  • Children 6 to 12 years old: 9 to 12 hours a day
  • Teens 13 to 18 years old: 8 to 10 hours a day
  • Adults 18 years or older: 7 to 8 hours a day

As you can see, the minimum sleep amount in that list rests solidly at seven hours. But what happens if you get less?

Sleep Deprivation: The Side Effects of Not Getting Enough Sleep

When you don’t sleep enough, your body lets you know. “Sleep isn’t just a period of inactivity; it’s a time when the body is hard at work on various essential tasks,” Wu says. “During sleep, the brain consolidates memories, processes information from the day, and clears out waste products. The body also repairs tissues, produces hormones, and strengthens the immune system.”

Without the right amount of quality sleep, you might notice these symptoms:

  • Behavioral changes
  • Difficulty solving problems
  • Emotional instability
  • Excessive drowsiness
  • Learning difficulties
  • Memory lapses
  • Slow reaction time
  • Slow to finish tasks
  • Trouble focusing
  • Trouble making decisions

Sleep deprivation has also been linked with mental health disorders and physical health risks like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, Wu says. 

Sleep Debt

Sleep debt starts to accrue when you don’t get enough sleep. If you snooze six hours instead of eight hours five days one week, for example, you’ll build up 10 hours of sleep debt. As your sleep debt grows, your body and brain start to feel it. You can “pay down” sleep debt by getting extra shuteye where you can and by sleeping enough each night.

Why Most Of Us Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep

Often, good sleep can be the first casualty of a stressful situation or life change. “Anxiety and depression can also interfere with sleep, as they can cause racing thoughts and difficulty relaxing,” Wu says. Medical conditions like sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome can interrupt sleep, he explains, and poor sleep habits like watching TV too late or looking at your phone in bed can make sleep elusive.

Some groups of people are at an especially higher risk for sleep deprivation, including those who:

  • Abuse alcohol and drugs.
  • Care for elderly parents.
  • Do shift work or work nights.
  • Have a demanding job.
  • Have young children.
  • Must travel often for work.
  • Take medicines that can disrupt sleep.
  • Work long hours.

Of course, there are other reasons people may struggle to get the right amount of sleep. The precious hours before you sleep may be the only time you get to do exactly what you want to or you may consistently get a second wind as you should be winding down. If you find getting enough sleep is a challenge, you’re certainly not alone!

How to Get A Better Night’s Sleep

“Whatever your sleep needs are, you need to get that amount regularly and at a consistent time each night (with consistent sleep and wake times) for optimal health and well-being,” says Wu. He recommends building these healthy sleep habits into your schedule to help improve your sleep quality and quantity:

  • Avoid drinking alcohol right before bed.
  • Consume the last of your daily caffeine at least eight hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t adjust your sleep schedule by more than an hour on weekends.
  • Get out in the sun during the day.
  • Keep any snacks before bed light and small.
  • Make your bedroom cozy, cool, and dark.
  • Put your screens away the hour before you want to fall asleep.
  • Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
  • Use relaxation techniques before you try to fall asleep.
  • Wrap up any intense exercise an hour before bed.

Some of these habits can be challenging to start, especially if you’ve grown attached to your afternoon cuppa joe or doom-scrolling in bed. But the effects of good sleep will be well worth it!


Can your brain function on six hours of sleep?

If you get only six hours of sleep consistently, your brain will not function as well. Sleep deprivation can worsen memory, slow your reactions, and even change your behavior.

Is six to eight hours of sleep good?

Experts recommend adults over 18 get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Everyone’s needs vary slightly, but in general, seven to nine hours is the sweet spot.

Can I sleep six hours and take a nap?

“Napping can’t fully replace the benefits of a full night’s sleep, but it can help alleviate some of the effects of sleep deprivation, such as reducing sleepiness and improving mood, alertness, and cognitive function,” says Wu. He cautions, though, that you should keep your naps to 30 minutes max.

The Last Word From Sleepopolis 

Most people need more than six hours of sleep on a consistent basis. These hours are far from unproductive, and your body puts its sleeping time to good use—you miss out on more than you gain by skimping on this vital part of life. Habits are hard to change, but start a little at a time, and before long, you’ll pay down your sleep debt, and notice health improvements all around.


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Abby McCoy

Abby McCoy

Abby McCoy is an RN of 16 years who has worked with adults and pediatric patients encompassing trauma, orthopedics, home care, transplant, and case management. She has practiced nursing all over the world from San Fransisco, CA to Tharaka, Kenya. Abby loves spending time with her husband, four kids, and their cat named Cat.