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Energy, Mind

Sleep: how much do you really need?

In my teens and twenties, 8 hours of sleep seemed like a minimum to function. Always struggling to get out of bed, even if I had had 10-12 hours of slumber. Now that I know we will have a baby in 6 months… well I need to get used to the fact that my sleep will be reduced!

The Problem: not enough hours in the day to do everything

There are 24 hours in a day, if you spend 10 hours at work, 2 hours commutting and 8 hours asleep, that leaves 4 hours to do other more interesting things… so if you cannot cut your work hours or commutte, how can you optimise your sleep? With a baby on the way, a non flexible job, wanting to keep a life, but lots of ideas/ projects… something has to give!

Getting the right sleep for maximum energy

Getting the right sleep for maximum energy

The Plan: Test out how much sleep I really need to function

Can you imagine sleeping only 4 hours a night, and feeling completely refreshed and full of beans? That means you would have 3-4 hours more per day than anyone else! That’s the difference between setting up a business, learning a language, studying for an exam… or just carrying on as you are now, struggling for time.

Apparently, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, both prime ministers in the UK, were reputed to only need 4 hours of sleep a night, but what people often fail to mention, is that they both used strategic napping to compensate. With a kid on the way, I recon I will not have a choice in the matter, but what would life be like on 4 hours sleep a night?

  • Week 1: sleep 4 hours per night and see how that goes
  • Week 2 onwards: adjust depending on how bad I feel…

Let’s try it and see…

The Result: sleep deprivation is officially a form of torture

Week 1: 4 hours sleep 5 nights in a row and I’m like a zombie. My coordination is much worse, my memory not great and my mind fuzzy. Wow, having a kid is certainly going to be a challenge!

So after 2 nights of proper catch up sleep (10 hours each), I’m going to adjust with 2×20 mins naps (1 on commute in and 1 on commute back) but still 4 hours.

Week 2: After a couple of days struggling to nap properly, tiredness has made sure I now nap on demand. I sit/ lie down with my noise insulating earphones, put my alarm on for 20 minutes time… and I’m gone!

Overall, I feel much better than last week but tired still, this does not feel sustainable long term.

Power naps help a lot, lots of different places suggest that a 15-20 minute power nap can replace 1-2 hours of sleep. When done properly “a power nap benefits your energy and let you regenerate efficiently. NASA studies have proved that brain function improves dramatically when taking a nap”. OK, so plan for next week, after 2 nights of proper sleep, and I recon week 3 will be 5 hours of sleep and 2 naps.

Week 3: Maybe it’s because I’m getting used to limited sleep or knowing I will have a nap in a few hours, but I now do not struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. 5 hours sleep feels great and I recon I could get used to this. Sleeping on the commute means I optimise my time to do productive things. Perfect for train commuters, but I guess cars that drive themselves are still a few years away!

Ok, final experiment, in case I cannot have nap during the day time… 6 hours sleep only, a whole 2 hours less than I was used to before, but I now believe I can get by on a lot less sleep.

Week 4: Feeling good and sharp, until Thursday/ Friday when I started getting a bit tired, but overall quite sustainable, maybe I will be able to survive having a kid!

Week 5 & onwards: Focusing on 6 hours sleep and adding a longer night sleep during the week, or a nap on days I feel more tired. This works really well for me and I love the flexibility it gives me. Having a couple more hours a day is certainly a bonus!

Some people mentioned napping could have impact on night time sleep, from what I have seen, this is not the case if done before c. 5-6pm. Research on our body clocks(the lovely named circadian rythms) supports this.

Biological clock

Biological clock

Understanding our Biological clock is useful in understanding when is the best time to do things. Looks like:

  • morning for studying/ intensive concentrated work and
  • afternoon for more physical work or meetings.

About patarcher

Office Escapee Entrepreneur Trainer & Coach TED enthusiast Family guy Primal & Barefoot



  1. Pingback: Make your unconscious work for you « A guide to escaping office life - June 8, 2012

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