Is the 8-Hour Sleep Rule a Myth or Truly Beneficial?

by Matt Weik, BS, CSCS, CPT, CSN

We have all heard from our doctors or physicians that 8 hours of sleep a night is crucial for the optimal functioning of an adult brain. We have all heard it, but how feasible is it to actually fulfill 8 hours a night of sleep and get everything done throughout the day?

The 60-hour workweek has become the norm for working professionals around the world, and many entrepreneurs and business owners are even higher than that. Many of us go so far as to boast about our lack of sleep as if it’s some sort of badge of honor and proves just how hard you work.

That said, is it really smart to forego 8 hours of sleep a night in favor of professional pursuits? Is it worth burning the midnight oil to “grind and hustle” to consider yourself successful in today’s age?

Recent development in sleep research has been trying to dig deeper into the 8-hour sleep rule and whether it’s a myth or if we actually need that much sleep to function optimally.

To Sleep or Not to Sleep For 8 Hours?

There is an epidemic going on in the student population. An epidemic of sleep deprivation. There is increased pressure on students these days to perform exceptionally well in academic and extracurricular activities. As a result, students are foregoing more and more sleep in favor of doing their school activities.

Not sleeping enough has a two-fold harmful effect:

  • Firstly, not sleeping enough can have a negative impact on physical health.
  • Secondly, not getting enough sleep can negatively impact learning and memory.

What Does Sleep Do to Our Bodies?

Sleep heals the body on a molecular, mental, and physical level. Sleep is so effective that studies believe that sleeping after getting the flu vaccine can boost its efficacy.

Though we know we crave sleep, the exact purpose of WHY we need sleep is not clear to us. Well, a 2007 Harvard study has a few theories on why sleep is such an integral function of our well-being.

  • During the daytime, normal functions of the brain create Adenosine. It is a by-product created by the normal functioning of cells. Adenosine is the hormone that promotes the feeling of tiredness at the end of a long day. When we sleep, the body has a chance to expel the adenosine hormone.
  • One breakthrough in sleep research suggests that sleep might change the physical structure of our brains.
  • For example, it is now clear that sleep plays a critical role in the development of a child or infant’s brain.
  • According to energy consumption theory, sleep helps conserve energy at a time when it is hard to hunt for food (i.e., nighttime). When we are asleep, our body’s core temperature drops by 10%, thus decreasing the body’s caloric expenditure and helping it conserve energy.

Is the 8-Hour Sleep Rule a Myth?

When you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep, it can be tempting to turn to an old standby like the 8-hour sleep rule. But does it actually hold up?

No — and here’s why:

  • First, we’re all different. Some people are morning people, and others are night owls. Some people need more sleep than others. You may find that you need more than 8 hours if you’re an early riser and less than 8 if you’re a night owl.
  • But even if you do fall within the normal range for your age group and gender, there’s still no guarantee that your body will feel rested after eight hours of sleep. That’s because what really matters is how well you sleep in those eight hours — and that depends on factors like the temperature in your bedroom (you’ll want to keep it cool), whether or not there’s any light coming into your room (you’ll want blackout curtains), and whether or not there are other noises disrupting your slumber (you’ll want to invest in some earplugs or a white noise machine).

“There’s a lot of individual variation,” said Dr. Orfeu Buxton, a neurologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “Some people are happy with six hours; some people are happy with 10.”

The average adult needs 7 1/2 to 8 1/2 hours of sleep each night, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), an independent non-profit organization dedicated to promoting optimal sleep health and safety through education, advocacy, and research. But that’s just an average — some people need more than that, while others need less.

“People vary enormously in how much sleep they need,” Buxton said. “That has nothing to do with how smart they are or how well they do on tests.”