Do some people need less sleep?

Sleep is vital for good health and wellbeing. Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. However, some people seem to thrive on less sleep, leading to the question of whether some people actually need less sleep than others.

How much sleep do most people need?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Their guidelines for different age groups are:

Age Recommended Hours of Sleep
Newborns (0-3 months) 14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months) 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years) 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years) 10-13 hours
School age (6-13 years) 9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years) 8-10 hours
Young adults (18-25 years) 7-9 hours
Adults (26-64 years) 7-9 hours
Older adults (65 years and over) 7-8 hours

As you can see, the recommended amount of sleep declines from infancy to adulthood. But for most adults, getting 7-9 hours per night is considered optimal.

Why is sleep important?

During sleep, important restorative functions occur in the body and brain. Skipping sleep prevents these functions from happening and can lead to:

  • Fatigue and daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble concentrating and impaired memory
  • Weakened immune system
  • Increased risk of weight gain and obesity
  • Higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure
  • Increased inflammation and slower healing
  • Lower sex drive
  • Mood changes like irritability, depression, and anxiety

Chronic insufficient sleep is also associated with an increased risk of death from all causes. In other words, lack of sleep can have significant detrimental effects on health.

Do some people need less sleep?

Some people do seem capable of thriving on less than the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Several factors play a role in determining sleep needs:


Sleep needs tend to decrease slightly as we age. Older adults may require only 7-8 hours of sleep. Newborns, on the other hand, need 14-17 hours of daily sleep.


Genes impact our circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles. Some genes allow people to function well even with slightly less sleep than usual.

“Short sleepers”

A very small percentage of the population (around 1-3%) are “short sleepers.” These individuals have a genetic mutation that enables them to feel well-rested on just 4-6 hours of sleep per night.


Some short sleepers supplement their nighttime sleep with daytime naps. The combination allows them to thrive on less sleep at night.

However, true short sleeping ability is very rare. Requiring little sleep is much more commonly a learned behavior or coping mechanism for busy schedules rather than an innate ability.

Signs that you’re getting enough sleep

How can you tell if you’re someone who needs less sleep? Signs that indicate you’re getting sufficient high-quality sleep include:

  • Waking up feeling refreshed and not sleepy
  • Remaining alert and focused throughout the day
  • Having enough energy for physical activity and work
  • Being in a good mood and handling stress well
  • Rarely feeling drowsy while driving or engaged in tasks
  • Not depending on caffeinated drinks to stay awake

If you display most of these signs, you may be getting all the sleep you need. However, keep in mind that they can also result from the placebo effect or temporary coping mechanisms.

Dangers of undersleeping

Insufficient sleep tends to catch up with most undersleepers eventually. Effects of chronic sleep deprivation include:

  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Slower reaction times and increased risk of accidents
  • Higher sensitivity to pain
  • Trouble controlling emotions
  • Weakened immune function and frequent sickness
  • Increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart disease
  • Higher levels of inflammation and oxidative stress

Undersleeping has also been linked to increased risk of death from all causes. So while some people may seem to thrive on minimal sleep, it can carry serious long-term health consequences.

Tips for determining your optimal sleep needs

Since undersleeping can negatively impact health even when you feel fine, how do you know how much sleep you really need? Here are some tips:

Experiment with different sleep durations

Try going to bed 30 minutes to an hour earlier for a week. Pay attention to how you feel. Repeat by going to bed later. Determine your optimal bedtime by how you feel overall.

Notice natural wake time

On days off with no alarm, check the time when you naturally wake up. This indicates the amount of sleep your body needs.

Track sleep and energy

Use a sleep tracking app and energy ratings throughout the day. This can reveal connections between sleep duration and daytime energy.

Consult a sleep specialist

Do an overnight sleep study or see a sleep medicine doctor. They can help determine any issues with sleep quality or circadian rhythms.

Aim for the amount of sleep that leaves you feeling good overall. Don’t sacrifice sleep for other activities long-term, as it will eventually impact your health.

Improving sleep habits

If you think you may be undersleeping, improving your sleep hygiene can help get more high-quality sleep within your optimal sleep time. Try these tips:

Follow a consistent sleep schedule

Go to bed and wake up at the same times daily, even on weekends. This stabilizes your circadian rhythm for better nighttime sleep.

Limit blue light exposure at night

Avoid screens for 1-2 hours before bed. Blue light emitted from electronics delays the body’s release of melatonin needed for sleep.

Create an optimal sleep environment

Keep your bedroom cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable to promote better sleep.

Wind down before bed

Spend 30-60 minutes relaxing and avoiding stimulating activities before trying to fall asleep.

Avoid alcohol before bed

While alcohol may help you fall asleep faster, it reduces sleep quality later in the night.

Address any sleep disorders

Consult your doctor if you think you may have insomnia, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or other disorders interfering with sleep.

The bottom line

The vast majority of adults need 7-9 hours of quality sleep per night to maintain optimal health. Older adults and some genetically gifted “short sleepers” may thrive on slightly less. But most undersleepers accumulate a sleep debt that can negatively impact health and functioning.

Aim to get enough sleep to feel rested during the day without needing to “catch up” on weekends. If you have difficulty sleeping, improving sleep habits and addressing any underlying disorders can help optimize your sleep time.

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