How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?


“Sleeping Cat” by Michael Carian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the average adult needs at least 7 to 10 hours of sleep per night, but most of us know that having 7 hours a night is a pretty sweet deal – let’s face it, not everyone has the time to sleep for that long! Sometimes we’re too piled up with work, but other times, it just seems as if we’ve all got better things to do than just sleep. However, is there a way to sleep for a shorter time, whilst still reaping the benefits of sleep? Yes! It is possible to sleep for less by adjusting our sleep cycle.

Most of us are familiar with the monophasic sleep cycle. It’s basically routine – sleep at night for around 7 hours, wake up and go through the day until it’s night again, then sleep for 7 hours until the next morning, and so on … But is this the most efficient cycle? The truth is, there are 4 other sleep cycles that can seemingly provide all the benefits of sleep while sleeping much less. These sleep cycles are known as polyphasic sleep cycles, and unlike monophasic, in which you sleep once a day, polyphasic cycles consist of multiple sleep periods. The most commonly used polyphasic cycles are the following, Biphasic, Everyman, Dymaxion, and Uberman.

Practical Psychology

We have such a large and diverse student body at UNIS, so I decided to go around the campus asking students and teachers about their sleep cycles. Many (including myself) follow a “normal” sleep cycle; wake up at around 6:30am, go to sleep at 11:00pm, wake up and repeat the cycle all over again. However, there were a few students who had a somewhat different sleep schedule:

Minh Anh Nguyen (Grade 11)

“Usually I sleep at 8:00pm, before waking up at 3:00am. You can wake up early, you have this whole quiet environment for yourself, in the dark, and you can watch the sunrise as you study. People think it’s strange, but really I sleep the same hours that you guys do, maybe more –  I sleep 6.5 to 7 hours. Sometimes I get tired, I take a nap around 6:30am and get up at 7:00am”

Son Dao Nguyen (Grade 12)

Could you please describe your sleep cycle (when…how long, etc.)?

“My sleep pattern right now is what most people would consider normal. The sleep cycle that most people are interested in is my sleep cycle from before. That was when I tried to go to sleep at  8:00pm or 9:00pm and get up at 3:00am or 4:00am. I still go back to that schedule if I’m really tired.”

How long have you been doing this (do you still do this)?

“I used that particular sleep cycle for about a year. I only used it during the school year and not during holidays. I recently switched back to a more normal schedule.”

Why have you adopted this sleep cycle, what are the benefits for you?

“Due to school and sports, I was usually drained in the evening. When I tried to do homework like that, I couldn’t produce work of the best quality. Therefore, I decided that I could do it early in the morning. There were certainly advantages to doing this. Early in the morning, I usually feel really fresh and I could actually focus on learning the material. Another advantage is that there are no distractions that early in the morning. The streets are quiet, and I don’t get any notifications on social media.”

How does this sleep cycle fit into your schedule? Well or is it difficult?

“It worked well for me in the past, especially when I had two or three hours of tennis after school. I recently changed it up, because I have mock exams and the IB exams coming up soon. Waking up a bit later means I peak later in the day.”

Would you recommend other people trying it?

“I would definitely recommend it if you don’t feel like you can focus in the evening. However, there are also disadvantages to this which everyone should be aware of. If you have to collaborate with someone on a project in the evening, it’s going to be more difficult for you. If you have questions on something at 4 in the morning, no one can help you. You also need more willpower to get up because it’s darker and colder at 4. If you feel like this is something you need, definitely try it out. My advice would be to do what feels the best for you.”

Is your current sleep cycle working for you? It is recommended that we all get at least 7 hours of shut-eye a night, but I’m guessing that work isn’t the only thing preventing you from getting your beauty sleep. Quit depriving yourself of sleep! If the conventional cycle isn’t working for you, perhaps switching things up might be worth a try!