Figure Out Exactly How Much Sleep You Need With This Simple Self-Test

Note: don’t miss my Definitive Guide to Sleeping Like a Baby Every Single Night.

Maybe you’ve heard the general recommendation that you need to get 7-9 hours of quality sleep every night, and that’s not bad advice. But what’s the TRUE amount of sleep that you really need on a daily basis? That’s a good question and fortunately, there’s a simple self-test that you can do to figure out exactly how much sleep you need – and it works every time. But before we get to the test, here’s a little bit of back story.

Tiger Yawning
Wild animals don’t seem to have any problem figuring out how much time to devote to sleep. Why haven’t we figured this out yet?

You see, it’s true that everyone knows that sleep is “good for us” just like vegetables are good for us, but not everyone knows how much sleep is ideal to be getting daily. And when I say ideal, I mean the optimal amount of sleep based on your own individual needs – not some arbitrary standard, but a personalized standard. Knowing this number could literally change your life because sleep affects EVERYTHING and getting the optimal amount of sleep will optimize… well, you know what I mean.

Now, I’ve seen a multitude of articles, research studies, and videos among other things that all proclaim exactly how much sleep people need on a daily basis. Depending on who you ask, the general recommendation is to get between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. Some sources will lean towards the bottom of that range, and others near the top. And some sources will deliberately tell you to get more than nine hours per night if you can. But here’s the thing, there’s a pretty big difference between 7 and 9 hours. If my calculations are correct, it’s a difference of not one, but TWO hours time (or 120 minutes for you math whizzes). I don’t know about you, but I really REALLY value my time and for me personally, two hours is a lot of time – especially if we’re talking two hours every single day. That’s 730 hours a year (gulp).

So, which is it: 7 hours a night or 9 hours a night? Or perhaps a better way of asking that question is this: “is 9 hours a night really that much better than 7 hours a night? Couldn’t we just squeak by with 7 good hours?”

Well, you could probably spend the next 7-9 hours researching and STILL not find the answer you’re looking for. You could read study after study, all of which will offer unique conclusions and different, interesting data points. Asking friends and family probably won’t help you either since everyone seems to have a different opinion on this one. Plus, everyone has at least one acquaintance (e.g. “old Uncle Henry”) who thrives on a mere 3-5 hours per night and does just fine. I know at least a half dozen Uncle Henries myself.

But there’s just gotta be an answer. Surely, someone has figured this out. With so many millions – even billions – of dollars being invested into research over the past several decades, surely someone has cracked the code and has a fairly definitive conclusion on exactly how much sleepy time we need every night. I mean this is something that is so basic to human health, you’d think we should prioritize this, right?

But alas, I have yet to find such a source. Now, that doesn’t mean all that research has been in vain. In fact, the research that has been done on sleep has illuminated a great many things about health, fitness, etc. – and we are better for it. However, yet again, we are greeted with the oh-so-familiar conclusion of “we need more research in this area.”

Of course! Isn’t that always what they say?

The Test To Figure Out Your Ideal Amount Of Sleep

Now, fortunately for you and I, there is simple test one can do to figure out exactly what the ideal, and thus, optimal amount of sleep is. The test is necessary because one of the things that the researchers have concluded is that sleep needs vary from person to person. It makes sense, too, because there can’t possibly be a perfect amount of sleep that applies to everyone with so many different people who have different needs. That’s why Uncle Henry can still party like it’s the end of the world on 3 hours per night, and you feel like you got steamrolled by a freight train without your 9+ hours. So, maybe we’ve been asking the wrong questions all along.

Anyways, here’s the test…

Next time you go to bed, don’t set your alarm clock. Instead, get up when your body wakes you up naturally. Chances are, it will be just about the perfect amount of sleep. And that’s all there is to it – really. You don’t even need a white coat. Even a PhD is optional. You can thank me later! Oh, and if you can’t sleep in tomorrow for whatever reason (work, school, etc.), then you can try it on the weekend, too – or any day for that matter. This test is unique since it works any day of the week.

In all seriousness, we tend to over-complicate things a bit too much in our modern, sophisticated culture, and the truth is that your body knows how much sleep it needs much better than any researcher, scientist, or guru ever will. So, please do yourself a favor by taking a break from all the information overload and just trust in your body’s instincts.

Note: if you try this little experiment and you don’t wake up for 16 hours, then don’t fret. You probably don’t really need to spend 2/3 of your day sleeping. It’s much more likely that you’re just chronically sleep-deprived and were playing catch-up from the last 10 years or so of lack of sleep. You’ll normalize to a lower volume very soon – probably tomorrow.

Wrap-Up

So, now that you know how to figure out exactly how much sleep you need, what are you going to do about it?

Success and motivation speaker, Tony Robbins,  said “A real decision is measured by the fact that you’ve taken a new action. If there’s no action, you haven’t truly decided.” He also said, “You see, in life, lots of people know what to do, but few people actually do what they know. Knowing is not enough! You must take action.”

Don’t you just hate it when someone tells you the truth?

The Definitive Guide to Sleeping Like a Baby Every Night: 20 Tips to Troubleshoot Your Sleep so that you can Spring out of Bed Each Morning Ready to Dominate Your Day (a No-Nonsense, Step-by-Step Guide on Sleeping Well)

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21 Responses

  1. Hey John,

    Clever article.

    I know that I came into it looking for some slightly complicated “math equation/psychology profiler” instructions or something like that. I should have known better it being an article on your site though. You always post things that are pretty accessible to everyone.
    Once I got to the meat of the article and read what the test actually was I kind of chuckled and said, “just so simple it might work”.

    I work the night shift, and have the luxury of sleeping in for as long as I want pretty much everyday. Unfortunately, I usually wake up after about 6 – 8 hours , and just lie there for a moment until I fall back asleep. I’ll do this 3 or 4 more times for another hour or 2 before I can actually get up. I have real energy and awareness issues when I first wake up.

    Sometimes right after I wake up I’ll have blurred vision and loss of motor skills almost like I’m drunk. I have to wait for 15 minutes before I snap out of it and can stay awake. Any ideas on this, or possible tips for being able to get up and just STAY up?

    • Plynch,

      Thanks for your comment. Too often we try to over-complicate things when the most logical solution is staring at us right in the face. It’s usually brain-dead simple and hard to argue with, too.

      Regarding your low energy issues first thing in the morning/afternoon – I can’t offer any definitive recommendations (not a sleep expert), but here’s what I’d try if I were in your shoes.

      1) don’t eat anything within 2-3 hours of bed
      2) sleep in a perfectly dark room, and for you that may mean quality window shades/curtains. I even have the little green light on our smoke detectors covered in my bedroom to keep it as dark as possible.
      3) avoid any stimulants before bed (coffee/sugar/etc.). I realize this might be a challenge in working the night shift, but try to stay off of these as long as possible before sleeping.
      4) avoid prolonged contact with any screens (tv/computer/phone/etc.)
      5) get to bed around the same time every day

      I’d try all of that FIRST, and if there’s little or no change, then I’d either seek professional help (if it’s that important to you), or just settle for the fact that part of this may just be that your circadian rhythm is out of whack due to working at night, and there may only be so much you can do.

      I hope that helps!

      • Thanks for the thorough and thoughtful reply.

        Those are all things I try to watch as much as possible.
        I do have a caffeine problem, and suspect that plays a major part in messing with my sleep. I have no problem falling asleep, but suspect that the quality of sleep is affected.

        In regards to the computer screen, thats a real tough one.
        I try to counter act this by using a program called F.Lux: stereopsis.com/flux/
        It knows when the Sun rises and sets in your location, and will adjust the colors of your screen accordingly. When the sun sets, the program removes all blue hues, sort of like switching from a flourescent bulb to a candle.

        Thanks again for the response.

      • I found this post interesting. Like Plynch, I wake naturally after 6 to 8 if I keep my room dark. However, if there is sun coming through my window I will wake no matter what time I went to bed. But I digress. After waking, I can easily go back to sleep for another hour or two but I hate it because I feel like I’m wasting daylight. Those tips about kicking the first-wake grogginess seem prudent. I shall have to give it a try because each of those things that you recommened not doing are things that I do!

  2. What if you have kids that get up chirpier than a warbler at 6am? Every day of the week. How can I take the test? Help me out here man!! ;D

    • Shane,

      My wife and I try to find sometime to take a vacation without the kids. Like a 3-day “weekend”. The second night would be the test night. I have six kids with a seventh on the way, I rarely get 7 hours a night but that seems to be my needed amount. I take naps during the day to help me out. I even take a nap before my workout.

      • Whoa! A seventh on the way? Martin, mad props to you. And congratulations, truly. I love my kids and am passionate about family. I have nothing but respect for other fathers who feel the same. Grant it, we are only going as far as 3. : )

        It’s a bit of an ongoing joke between John and I, so I was yanking his chain a bit (as my kids aren’t really a source of lack of sleep, I am). But given that you have 6 kids and still get some sleep, I don’t have any more excuses. Or ammo for yanking John’s chain. Thanks for that. ;D

        Great job in finding the balance with all that. Not easy to say the least. Little getaways without the kids is definitely something we’ve talked of. About another year to go. My daughter will be 2 by then and we should be able to start incorporating that. Funny how after we had our first one, talking about a day down the road when we might do something like that together, my wife said she wasn’t so sure. That it would just feel strange to leave our kids behind and she didn’t really see that happening. By number 3, she is now asking “So when are we going on that trip to the Caribbean?”, haha. Our kids are great though and certainly have no reason to complain.

    • Shane,

      Try NyQuil. I think they make it in a bubble gum flavor (kidding).

  3. Hi John,

    This is so true. I also find I feel much better in the morning for waking up naturally even if it’s way before my alarm is due to go off.

    There is another way to find out how much sleep you NEED, rather than how much you want – have kids!

  4. John, one of the best schemas for managing your sleep time I ever came across was from Bentley and Formby’s “Lights Out: Sugar, Sleep, and Survival”.

    Here’s the plan in a nutshell (and also, according to the authors, the key to making a low carb, high fat diet work) :

    Assuming you are healthy and not obese or dealing with pre-diabetes etc: During the summer months (mid April to mid September), the sky’s the limit. Stay up late, eat, drink, screw, etc. This is “rutting time” in the seasonal scheme of things. Live it up.

    However, sometime in late September, start scheduling more time for sleep as the days get shorter. Start going to bed earlier each week. By mid November, you should be getting as much sleep as you possibly can without getting fired or divorced. 10-12 hours a day is just about right, as much of it before midnight as possible. Be sure the room is dark as possible (cover up the blinky lights, get some room darkening blinds.) During this time, your ancestors were basically living on meat, fat, and whatever root vegetables they could scavenge. Do the same.

    As spring approaches, you can reverse the progression to get less sleep until at least the spring equinox.

    If you ARE fat or dealing with obesity, every month is winter until you reverse your condition.

    It’s a hell of a radical change, but I can attest it seems to work.

    • That’s an interesting system, James. And now that I think of it, I do tend to sleep more during the winter months, and have as far back as I can remember. Food for thought.

  5. Lucie Heins

    This is a very interesting post. I’m one of your ‘old uncle Henry’ types. I go to sleep at a 11:00 pm every night and like clockwork I wake up at 4:30-5:00 am. I always wake up before the alarm goes off. I have read a lot of articles about how much sleep we should have and I have often wondered if I was lacking something. After 5.5-6 hours of sleep I am ready for the day…but usually stay in bed because I think I need to. I think I am going to just get up and put another hour into my daily activities.
    Thanks for this clarification. It really isn’t rocket science.

  6. I’ve tried all of the below recommendations and more:

    1) don’t eat anything within 2-3 hours of bed
    2) sleep in a perfectly dark room
    3) avoid any stimulants before bed (coffee/sugar/etc.)
    4) avoid prolonged contact with any screens (tv/computer/phone/etc.)
    5) get to bed around the same time every day

    But I have NEVER woken up feeling rested, no matter how many hours of sleep I get. I’ve experimented on the weekends, but after 9-10 hours of sleep, I’ll be angry that I’ve slept for so long and just get up anyways.

    I tried forcing myself to only get by with 5-6 hours of sleep, because I want to be like all those Uncle Henries out there; can you imagine how much more productive you can be with only sleeping 5-6 hours/day??? But I was still exhausted everyday.

    I hope to find or figure out some way to where I only need 5-6 hours of sleep.

    • Omar Barakat

      Hey Mitsu,

      I struggled liked you for a looooong time. Until I did a master degree in physiotherapy.

      All our body systems, (digestive, respiratory, etc…) work in harmony, it is the way that we were created. If one of the systems gets messy, the rest of the systems get messy.

      I used to eat what I want whenever I want, I would eat anything and everything in sight, until I realized the damage I am doing to my body.

      I turned to a paleo diet (google it, if you don’t know it), which is basically you eat meat and veggies just like a caveman would do (with some changes of course)

      One week after I started the diet, I sleep like a baby for 6 hours a day and I wake up full of energy.

      I go for a swim before work, then get to work, finish it then go to the gym, all off 6 hours of sleep a day.

      We are what we eat, if we eat crap, we act and feel like crap. If we eat energy we will be energy. Try it.

  7. I can get by with just three 20 minute naps a day if I have less than a 16 hour day ahead of me… if more than 16 hours I need around six or seven naps a day. My naps are usually right after meals or right before I go to the gym. Very rarely am i ever tired if I nap correctly

  8. Forgive me if this has been addressed and I missed it, but I’m a Type 1 Diabetic of 34 years. I have to check my blood sugar at 2 am and 7 am even on the weekends and on vacation. Any suggestions on how I can figure out my sleep requirements?

  9. Ok I tried this and I wake up after 8-9 hours. Although I am usually still tired and go back to sleep and finish off with 10-11 hours, this happend 3 days in a row. Clearly I’m not going to spend nearly half my day in bed, but I still feel like I’m dragging myself around if I don’t. Any suggestions?

  10. Evan Dilernia

    So your telling me the optimum amount of sleep for me than is 16 hours ….. I don’t think my body can afford to sleep that much :/

  11. Yo bro, I’m gathering research, articles, etc that also talk about the value of when to sleep; of sleeping in balance with circadian rhythms as opposed to say two in the morning to noon.. and the negative health consequences for those that do not.. You have anything?

  12. Courtney Johnson

    I lay in bed for about two hours before I can go to sleep. I always find my self shacking my foot even when im not trying to sleep I will just be sitting and doing something on my laptop and I shake my foot and I don’t know why I do it I can stop shacking my foot but then about five min later I will forget about trying to stay still and shake my foot again and I don’t know why im doing this. If anyone knows why im doing this please let me know. I also seem like it helps me focus when I do shake my foot.

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