healthy sleepinsomnia

How much do healthy sleepers sleep? And why it’s important to know

By October 28, 2019 No Comments
The other day someone told me when talking about his difficulties sleeping that “I’m not like others that go to bed, sleep for 8 hours straight and then wake up” and then described his difficulties sleeping.

I realized that he had a very significant misperception when it comes to how others sleep. I remember taking note of this and although I never shared my thoughts on how most people sleep with him (I don’t think it was important for that encounter) it made me wonder if perhaps a lot of people overestimate how well others sleep.

It would be very interesting to ask let’s say 1000 people to describe how they think others sleep. Perhaps they would in fact say that they think most people go to bed at 10 pm, fall asleep quicly and wake up refreshed 6:30 am. I don’t know of any study looking into peoples perception of how others sleep but I do think that the 8 hour myth may have created even more problems than I have thought.

If you have read my previous posts you know that it is not true that you should sleep at least 8 hours and that many develop insomnia in their quest to sleep 8 hours and that insomniacs often have worsening symptoms and frustration when they can never reach 8 hours of sleep. If you are new to this blog do read previous posts here.

The new problem with the 8 hour myth I though about today was that perhaps it spreads a notion that most people sleep 8 hours. If it is recommended to sleep 8 hours perhaps that means that sleeping 8 hours is normal. This could be a big problem as those sleeping less than 8 hours now feel abnormal. Comparing your 6 hours with everybody else sleeping 8 could be another source of frustration and a trigger for insomnia.

So how much do healhy sleepers in fact sleep?

I found this study looking at objective and subjective sleep duration in healthy adults.

669 participants wore actigraphy devices (think fitbit) and were asked to estimate how much they slept. What were the resutls?

Objective average sleep duration:

6 hours and 4 minutes.

Estimated average sleep duration:

6 hours and 50 minutes.

In other words healthy adults seem to sleep about 6 hours but estimate sleeping about 7 hours. And keep in mind that these are averages. The standard deviation for objective sleep duration was 1.16 which means that 68% of healthy sleepers slept between 4 hours 54 minutes and 7 hours 14 minutes. This is way lower than the typically recommended range of sleep for adults which is 6-8 hours.

I was surprised. I would have guessed most people both estimate and objectively sleep about 7 hours. In retrospect maybe I should not have been so surprised. When I have used SnoreLab, an app to check how much you snore I have noted that it often is recording for about 6 hours.

Getting at least 8 hours of sleep has seemed like terrible advice to me for quite sometime. Even more so now. Most healthy sleepers it seems objectively sleep about 6 hours but if you would ask them they would say that they sleep 7 hours. Insomniacs on the other hand are often acutely aware of how little they sleep. And sleeping on average 5.5 hours when it is recommended that you sleep 8 hours may seem alarming. Maybe if they new that many healthy sleepers sleep 5-6 hours they wouldn’t feel as bad. And not worrying about how much less they slept compared to the 8 hours recommended could rid them of one frustration and help them overcome insomnia.