Is Sleeping for 5 Hours a Night Really That Bad? We Asked An Expert

·2-min read
Photo credit: Shell_114 - Getty Images
Photo credit: Shell_114 - Getty Images

If you often catch yourself doomscrolling through Twitter until the early hours, bàofùxìng áoyè could be to blame. Translated from Chinese, so-called ‘revenge bedtime procrastination’ occurs when people who have little control over their daytime hours delay hitting the hay in order to regain some freedom. But could the benefits of sacrificing shut-eye ever outweigh the costs?

It boils down to your biological sleep need. Seven to nine hours may be the gold standard for a solid night’s kip, but your personal requirements are determined by genetics. A handful of bright-eyed outliers benefit from a mutated gene, hDEC2, which allows their body to thrive after just four hours between the sheets. The bad news? Fewer than one per cent of the population carry it.

“They wake up spontaneously feeling well rested, without suffering any of the telltale signs of sleep deprivation, such as poor reaction times and irritability,” says sleep scientist Dr Sophie Bostock. “They also don’t seem to suffer from the health risks associated with lack of sleep, such as heart disease, dementia, metabolic problems, and a weakened immune system.” (continued below)


Lucky them. For everyone else, the ill-effects of clocking fewer than seven hours range from ‘mostly bad’ to ‘much worse’. Snooze for fewer than five and you’re four times more likely to catch a cold than your well-rested colleagues. Shortened sleep more than doubles your risk of depression. It tanks your productivity and your T-levels, and takes a dangerous toll on your heart. Regularly clocking fewer than six hours bumps up your risk of an early death by 13 per cent.

And chances are, you won’t even know it. “Some studies suggest that we can function physically on about 70 per cent of our biological sleep need for months or even years at a time,” says Dr Bostock. “Interestingly, we become less sensitive to the effects of sleep deprivation as time goes on. We tell ourselves that we’ve adapted, when in actual fact, we’ve simply adapted to a lower level of performance.”

You can’t change or control how much sleep you need, says Dr Guy Meadows, founder of Sleep School, so leave the sleep hacking tactics to Silicon Valley. The goal is to wake up feeling “refreshed, alert and able to function effectively,” he says. If you depend on your alarm clock, can’t survive a day without caffeine or sugar, and zone out in meetings, bring your bedtime forward.

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