We all wish there were more hours in the day. From home and work obligations to, you know, a social life, there just don’t seem to be enough waking hours to get everything done. So can you train yourself to sleep less to counteract this?
For some, sleeping less might seem like the perfect productivity method. You’ll get everything done and still have time for yourself, right? But can you even do it, and if you try, what does it mean for your health?
We spoke with Dr. Francis Lau, PhD, FACN, Director of Science & Regulatory at Olly and Dr. Sanam Hafeez, New York City-based neuropsychologist and director of Comprehend the Mind to find out not only if you can train yourself to sleep less but also what the effects could be if you try.
Think about all the times you didn’t get enough sleep. You didn’t exactly feel on top of the world, did you? There is a multitude of reasons why, but to sum it up, sleep affects almost every single function our bodies perform.
“It’s one of the most important aspects of overall wellness,” said Lau. “Sleep affects almost every type of tissue and system in the body: from the brain, heart, and lungs to metabolism, immune function, mood, and disease resistance. Not getting enough sleep is linked with many adverse health issues including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.”
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Many people turn to sleep trackers in order to ensure they get adequate rest.
Hafeez reiterates Lau’s assertion stating that good health and sleep are intimately linked.
She details that alongside the risk for health issues like disease, a lack of sleep can affect mood and mental health resulting in agitation, irritability, and even depression. A lack of sleep could result in a loss of productivity and a lack of mental clarity.
Lau also warns about the effect on the brain.
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Some utilize natural supplements to improve sleep quality.
“There are real, scientifically studied impacts of poor sleep, including negative impacts to development, cognitive abilities, and longevity,” said Lau. “Not getting enough sleep can also lead to car crashes or mistakes at work. Gaining extra time by sleeping less might mean you actually spend that time looking for your lost keys or smoothing over a misstep at work!”
Plus, according to Hafeez, a lack of sleep can have real physical manifestations as well. Increased acne, more fine lines, the appearance of wrinkles, dark circles, and uneven skin tone can all occur with a lack of sleep.
Clearly, you want to catch those Zzzs.
Now that you know just how important sleep is, just how much do you need? According to both Lau and Hafeez, there’s no one set answer. Instead, there’s a range of sleep times depending on a few factors.
Both Lau and Hafeez agree that adults need at least seven hours of sleep per night, but getting up to eight or more is totally fine. Younger ages—like school-age children—need more and require up to 10 hours of sleep per night.
While some believe that you need less sleep as you age, that’s a myth. Once you hit adulthood, you need the same seven to nine hours of rest regardless of how old you are. When it comes to sleep and aging, the body’s circadian rhythm could shift forward, making older adults go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, but the sleep amount remains consistent.
Just because something could be possible, does that mean you should do it? That’s the bigger question regarding getting less sleep.
Hafeez told LifeSavvy that while not entirely proven, there is a possibility that you can train yourself to sleep less. You can reduce the amount you sleep as long as you feel alert and awake throughout your day.
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A sleep mask helps many sleep better.
“Everyone’s body functions differently with different amounts of sleep, so it can all vary from person to person,” said Hafeez. “However, your body could eventually adapt if you incrementally started sleeping later every night while waking up earlier. You could let your body get used to less sleep and add a nap to recharge.”
Lau agreed, explaining that sleep’s impact is different from person to person, and some people would do fine with reducing how much they sleep without seeing any adverse effects. However, he does add an important note. If you need to take a nap during the day to offset sleeping less at night, you might spend just as much time sleeping in the end.
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Total silence can harm some people's rest. A white noise machine can help.
Quality also determines if you can reduce how much you’re sleeping. Lau told LifeSavvy that ultimately, quality matters more than quantity. If you’re sleeping for nine hours, but you’re tossing and turning, waking up, and experiencing disruptions, it doesn’t matter that you were in bed for nine hours. Likewise, if you reduce your sleep to a minimum of seven hours, and those hours are all filled with good rest, a reduction would be fine.
If you’re currently sleeping for more than seven hours and want to take your time down, it could be worth trying. Ultimately, though, going below that recommended seven-hour point isn’t a good idea.
Since Lau and Hafeez both point to the importance of quality sleep—regardless of whether you’re trying to reduce hours or not—how can you improve it?
According to Hafeez, there is a multitude of simple steps you can take. She recommended keeping your sleep schedule consistent. While many of us tend to sleep in on weekends and holidays, Hafeez said to keep your wake time the same. Your drive to sleep increases gradually throughout the day, and if you wake up later, that drive won’t increase, leading to a tough time falling asleep at night.
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You should also have a nighttime routine.
“A relaxing activity before bed maximizes sleep,” said Hafeez. “This can include meditating, taking a hot bath, or reading. By keeping these activities as a nightly ritual, your brain will associate sleep coming soon after.”
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A fan can provide ambient noise and cooler temps.
Lau pointed to your sleep environment as a means of improving quality as well. He said crafting a quiet dark space at a comfortable temperature can help. Hafeez added that you should also eliminate electronics from a space. They stimulate your brain and prevent you from moving into a relaxed state. Plus, the blue light disrupts natural melatonin production.
Curating a perfect sleep environment and developing a routine are the keys to great sleep.
If you’ve ever felt like there weren’t enough hours in the day for you to hit your productivity goals, cutting back on sleep might not be the best answer. While it could be done, you still need a full seven hours. Instead, focus on getting quality rest so you can reap the mental benefits.