Watch out if you sleep too few hours so you can work more

How much sleep do you need on average every day? For me it is now definitely more than 10 or 20 years ago. I thought about this since last night I slept only three and half hours. That is clearly below what I need on average.


Twenty years ago when I was in my early twenties, I could go on for weeks or months with only a few hours sleep per night. I remember a summer break from the university. I worked the whole summer in shop selling jeans where I normally only worked during the weekend.


That summer I worked 6 days a week and went out almost every night. That lasted two months and at the end of that summer, my eyes showed that sleeping 3 hours per night is not something that is sustainable for me.


About 20 years later, I had a very busy and demanding job and I could really need a few extra hours during the week. Looking back now I know of course that I went for the wrong solution. I should have evaluated how I spent my time and have focused on the most effective actions with long-term impact while working less.


I decided however to cut my sleep to 6 hours per night. At that moment I was probably sleeping sometimes 5, sometimes 6, sometimes 7 or 8 hours per night. It just depended on my travel schedule.


A few years earlier I read somewhere (I believe it was in a book called The Monk who sold his Ferrari) that you can teach yourself to sleep less. Just do it for 3 weeks and you train yourself to sleep just 5 hours per night or so. (Nonsense for me, but I will come back to that.) I did that then for a while and stopped. I am not sure why anymore.


OK. So here we are with a demanding job and an urgent need for a few extra hours in the week. I decided that 6 hours per night should be enough for me. And yes, it is correct that I could train my body to follow a schedule with 6 hours sleep per night. Regardless if I went to sleep at 11 or 12, I made sure that I put my alarm clock 6 hours later.


That went on for a few months. I slept less at night. But things didn’t go well. I could concentrate less at my job. I became tenser. I used almost every single moment of idle time to take a nap; in the car (when someone else was driving), in the plane (I was also not flying myself either) at lunch break, etcetera.


In the end I realized that sleeping just about 6 hours per night is not it for me. I can get myself used to a rhythm of sleeping that much but it does not do me any good. I increased my sleeping duration at night from 6 to 7 hours and all went much better. Now I know that I need 7 hours per night on average and preferably as regular as possible.


Of course, sometimes I sleep less like last night with only three and half hours. That is no problem and it is now just before 8 am when I am sitting here behind my laptop writing this article.


Getting this regular amount of sleep also means that I do not really need to catch up when I have a night less sleep. With my regular seven hours, I have reserves that I can use. I do not need more than seven hours per night on average and I know now since I have tried it that I should not have less than that. But I am happy with the experience I had since I know now that with these 7 hours I sleep as little as that is sustainable for me in the long run to function well.


How many hours sleep per night do you need at least on average?