Sleep: How much are you getting?

Master BedroomI was somewhat surprised at how many people commented on the snooze button post (or emailed me) this week. But then I saw how many people responded to a post Meagan Francis wrote about sleeping 8.5-9 hours a night, and realized that this is really a hot topic.

Meagan wrote (in a previous post) that she normally was asleep by 10:30 and woke up at 7 or so. She’s always felt she needed a bit more sleep than average and did better when she got it. So far so good. A commenter then stirred the pot by complaining that Meagan’s life was too cushy and other women just couldn’t relate. Meagan wrote a post to respond, and the original commenter responded back…which then set off the whole fascinating phenomenon of a long comment thread of people arguing. What did we do before the internet for entertainment?

I’m somewhere around comment 120 (oh yes, it got to that) noting that in fact, Meagan is absolutely average. According to the American Time Use Survey, the average American woman gets a whopping 8.86 hours of sleep a night. Wow! To be sure, that is all women over age 15, so we’ve got teenagers and retirees in there. But even employed women of kids under age 6 (e.g. Meagan) sleep, on average, 8.48 hours a night. If Meagan’s getting 8.5, she’s right on the nose of average.

And many of the comments say the same thing. People (who don’t have newborns) are aiming for 8 or so hours a night. Getting a lot less is not as common as we think it is. Of course, there are people who get less (“Gina” — who set the whole consternation going — may be one of them). But they may be more of outliers than you’d suspect from the usual conversations about sleep.

I’ve been tracking my time this week. My average for weekdays isn’t 8 hours. My 5 recorded nights have been 7:45, 8:00, 7:00, 7:25, and 7:00, giving me an average for weeknights of 7:26, or just shy of 7:30. However, I’ll probably bump that up a wee bit on the weekend. My average for the week should land above 7:30, which is my target. And that’s for a pretty busy week during which I’ve been “parenting solo” (not single parenting, as Gwinne pointed out!). 

I would like a bit more me time in my life, which is why I sometimes go for 7 hours vs. 7.5 on weeknights. I do OK on 7. I do better on 7.5. I don’t really need 8.

How much sleep do you need? Have you tracked how much you usually get?




31 thoughts on “Sleep: How much are you getting?

  1. How much of the time you have set aside for sleep can you actually sleep? My struggle is often actually being able to sleep during “sleep” time but having to get up anyway.

  2. Now I’m sleepy. Yawn.

    I do best with 7-8 hours, ideally going to sleep at 10:30, which means heading upstairs to start the routine at 10:00, and getting up at 6:30. That hardly ever happens. I’m averaging about 6 and it’s not solid, and it’s wearing me down.

  3. Interesting. I try to steer clear of angry internet tirades… but yes, they are entertaining in their own right.

    If the girls sleep through the night (and usually they do), then I get between 6 and 7. I used to live off of 6 hours in grad school, but now I need at least 7 to be functional. My body wants to sleep more than 7 (probably my happiest is 8.5/9 to be honest) but I sort of like absolutely passing out at the end of the day. I don’t anticipate getting much more sleep than this at any point in my life, as long as I’m young(ish) and working (except when I’m pregnant, in which case, I need at least 12 hours of total sleep each day to be a nice person — nights and naps included).

    1. Ha! I was the same way when I was pregnant. I actually had a really healthy pregnancy but I slept all the time. All I did was work, eat and sleep.

  4. I do best with 8-8.5, and I usually get it — just not all in a row, thanks to the baby (right now, I sleep in 3- to 5-hour increments, and boy, is it rough. Only a few more months to go … ). If I get less than that, I do start to notice a deficit after a week or so, and end up sleeping it off on the weekend. I’m a night owl by nature, but I have never regretted getting up early and frequently regret staying up late!
    My husband does fine with 6.5-7 hours of sleep, and I’m eternally jealous.

    1. Oh, and I have 2 kids and work 15-20 hours a week, but am slowly scaling back up to full time hours by January.

      Solo parenting is no joke! I hope you get a break soon. I’ve done short stints and long ones (up to 4 months at a time), and sometimes think the one- or two-day chunks are hardest.

  5. Thanks, Laura, for the nod above. (I think the issue is that “single parent” is an identity marker whereas something like “parenting solo” is an action…)

    Like Megan, I do best with 8.5-9 hours of sleep. Right now I spend that much time in bed, but I’m lucky if I get 6-7 hrs of sleep, and much of that interrupted, due to a combo of insomnia and having a toddler (in bad stretches, I get 3-4 hours per night and really can’t function).

  6. If I added up my sleep during a 24 hour period. it might be close to 9 hours, which is my ideal as well. I’ve always needed more than 8 and having kids certainly hasn’t helped! My problem is that it is SO fragmented. The baby wakes anywhere from 0-3 times a night still, I have turned into a ridiculously light sleeper so if the dog gets up, or hubby comes to bed later, etc I’m up. We still have the baby in our room and her sister’s monitor, so all noises wake me as well.

    I could probably get by on 7-8 if it was uninterrupted, good sleep, but that won’t happen until our construction project is completed and everyone has their own sleeping space.

    I did notice in my teens and 20s that I did best with multiples of 3 – I could function ok if I had to on 3 or 6 hours of sleep and 9 was perfect. Anything in between was a disaster.

  7. I do best when I get between 8 and 8.5 hours of sleep- or at least that was the case back before I had kids when I could sometimes do that (usually by sleeping in on the weekends). I actually suspect that if left to my own devices, I would get about 8 hours most days. But with my 4 y.o. not falling asleep until almost 9:30 most nights and a family schedule that requires me to get to work before 8:30… If I prioritize getting 8 hours, I would never have time for anything but work and family during the week, and I don’t like that. So I have been cheating sleep. Now that I’ve almost got my current non-work project “done” I think I’ll probably swing the pendulum back towards sleep for awhile. But yeah, this is something I struggle with. I think, though, that the reason for the issue in my life is that my work is not making me happy right now, so I am looking to projects and hobbies to fulfill me… and that takes time.

  8. Yes, I was surprised that such a controversy arose from one line in a benign “day in the life” post by Meagan!
    Like Cloud, I sometimes sacrifice a bit of sleep for “me time”. If I wanted the 8-8.5 hours a night that is ideal for my body, I’d have to go to bed at 8:30 or 9 3-4 nights a week, which is when my older son goes to bed (my younger has a pretty consistent 5:30—at the latest—wake-up; and my husband and I alternate waking up with him). Some weeks I’m exhausted, and do exactly that—but then I start to miss hanging out with my husband, or have a book I want to read, or work that needs to get done, and I stay up a bit later than I ought to. My sleep is also often fragmented by children waking, my or my husband’s allergic sneezing, having to pee, and my own bouts of insomnia. I would imagine the TIme Use survey is counting “time in bed” and not necessarily sleep?
    If my little guy starts sleeping in later, I’ll be consistently getting at least an hour more—I’m looking forward to that someday. I am mostly OK with 7-7.5 hours, but any less and I quickly become an emotional mess.

  9. I need a consistent 7.25 hours a night- this from experiments during pre-baby vacation time. I’ve gotten an average of 6.5 most nights this week because the baby’s been waking up early, and I am definitely feeling the effects- that little edge of tiredness that follows me throughout the day. However, I won’t be joining the conversation as a mommy-lack-of-sleep-complainer (even though I really sympathize with moms whose kids don’t sleep- I was one of those for 9 long months). This week, I know I could have sacrificed reading/television time to get to sleep earlier, and so even though I could blame my son on the early wake-up, it’s on me that I didn’t get enough hours. I’ll readjust next week, and my son will hopefully start sleeping past 5:00 again, and I’ll be back to my happy medium.

  10. Meagan also noted that her sleep was typically interrupted.

    I have relatively low sleep needs and chronic insomnia, so I have to set aside a bit more “bedtime” than I actually need in order to give myself a chance of getting sufficient sleep. Knowing that 7.5 hours is probably ideal for me, I normally set aside about 8:30 (:30 min. of reading) in order to shoot for 8. This provides a buffer if I can’t fall asleep or have to fall asleep more than once. ~5/7 nights/week this produces more than 7 hours, after which I am totally fine.

  11. What a weird thing to get upset about. Maybe people are sleep-deprived.
    People have wide ranges of sleep needs (one of my aunts is one of those crazy people who only needs a few hours each night), and I need more sleep when I’ve been working hard at work and less sleep when I haven’t. My kids are the same way– they hardly sleep at all if they’re not being challenged, but put them in a new setting and they can hit 9 or 10 hours.
    I can’t function at all when I’m sleep-deprived so it is a major priority for me. Otherwise my time spent at work is useless. If someone of means feels like they’re not getting enough sleep and it isn’t an insoluble medical problem, there should be no guilt in trying to fix that– hiring someone to clean or help with childcare etc. so that there’s more time at night.
    FTR, I range between 7 hours and 10 hours at night depending on circumstances (7 when I hit my sleep cycles perfectly and have had a super relaxing day, 10 when my sleep cycles get interrupted and work has been hard).

    1. This is a very interesting perspective on sleep. I agree — my sleep needs vary based on the nature of my day as well.

  12. I took a quick look at the comments and was delighted to see all these who report high sleep needs.

    I have very high sleep needs and have always felt like an outlier.

    1. @Archer – I think spreadsheets are easiest for most people, because it gives you a broad sense of the space of time. But I always use a word document. Partly it’s because I know I’ll be cutting and pasting into a blog post much of the time, and it’s harder to do that from a spreadsheet. You can use whatever works for you — it’s more the act of doing it than the method!

  13. I love sleep! I do! If I get a nap on the weekends, it is generally one of the high points of my weekend. I function best with 9 hours but 8 is ok too.

    I didn’t make it through reading all the comments on Meaghan’s blog but I really think for many people, sleep can be had if it is prioritized.

    I also don’t get the mommy martyrdom of not sleeping. Please.

  14. I love ARCs comment above about multiples of 3s. Reminds me of the late teen/early adult years. I have been using Laura’s time log pretty seriously for a few months now. I realize I sleep more during the summer. I average about 6.5 hours during the summer and 5 during the school year. Sure, my body needs more. I am probably more tired than I should be. Maybe, maybe not. I sleep less because I choose to sleep less. I hear people comment all the time that we spend more time with people at work than with our own families. I decided that I don’t want that, even it means I get less sleep. Also, I get time for my own stuff. I know that I am really lucky and that this won’t work for everyone. My life is simple really, and I have a great support system. Funny thing, though, is that I still haven’t really made time for exercise.

  15. I usually go to bed at 9pm and to sleep at 9:30. My son nurses pretty reliably at 5:00am (+1 or 2 additional times during the night) and I get up for good at 5:30. This is true both week days and weekends except the occasional Sunday when my husband doesn’t play in the church band. It’s amazing how, well, amazing I feel after sleeping more – yesterday I slept from 9:30 to 7 minus baby wake-ups and I felt like Superwoman- but there’s no way I’d be able to do that AND have personal time to practice the piano and workout, so I guess it’s worth the sacrifice.

  16. I have always needed a lot of sleep, even as a child (or so says my mother). I have chronic allergies and I think my body needs to rest from always attacking itself. Sigh. So I tend to sleep 8-10 hours/night, with the variation tracking with pollen seasons.

  17. Oh, I’m sorry I’m so late to this thread because it’s fascinating to me how many people are publicly acknowledging needing – and even GETTING – 8+ hours of sleep! I feel like it’s a really refreshing thing to be able to say that you get plenty of sleep AND live a productive life. Maybe one is linked to the other.

    1. @Meagan – it is fascinating! But yep, a fair number of people must be getting enough sleep, or the average wouldn’t come out as high as it does! It was interesting to me to see that I never slept less than 7 hours, and so I was never that tired last week. Last night was a different story (hello 7:40 flight to San Francisco!) I am paying for that now. But one of the reasons I didn’t get enough sleep is that I slept 8 hours the night before. I woke up at 7:45 (!!) and hence just wasn’t tired at 10:30, which is when I needed to go to sleep to wake up at 5. I lay awake until at least midnight (which would fit with getting 7:45 of sleep, given the previous night).

  18. I saw you on Creative live and became interested in your blog. Just not going through it… I am getting more and more interested in time tracking and scheduling – thanks to you!

    I usually get between7-7.75 hrs of sleep on weekdays and 7-8 on weekends. My sleep on weekends is much more solid though and I often feel more rested. During the week I wake up 2-3 times a night and look at the clock or use the bathroom. On the weekends I wake up once in the middle of the night for the bathroom.

    I haven’t tracked my time exactly, but I usually wake up by 7am on weekdays and 8 or 9 on weekends. The thing that changes most is the time I go to bed.

    This morning I got up to do a jog/walk my dog before work. If it’s important it needs to happen first right? 🙂 I woke up at 5:55am (had set my alarm for 6:07am), but I still didn’t get out on the pavement until 6:30am. It took me 35 mins. to get ready enough to go outside!? That was just taking care of the pets (letting the dog out/feeding the cats), bathroom, make coffee, drink water and coffee, get jogging clothes on, find my headphones, ect.

    Anyways, wanted to share that tid bit. Thanks for the CL workshop. I am working on some tactics you shared.

    1. @Brandi- thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed the workshop. Yes, it can take an amazing amount of time to get out the door. I’m working on shortening the routine myself. If I intend to go somewhere, do it. Don’t waste time wandering around…

      I sometimes wake up around 5:30 or so for the bathroom. I suspect that’s when the traffic starts outside, and maybe it’s when our heater kicks on too. It’s just enough of noise that I start to wake.

  19. I can’t believe people would get so judgemental about how much sleep a person gets? I think that is really very personal. I know I need about 9 to 10 hours and usually end up getting 5 to 7. If anything, I’m envious of people that can organize their lives to get the sleep that they need – which is one of the prime reasons I started looking at your blog! And deep down I know that if I slept more I would be happier, healthier, and more efficient, and it would make life more pleasant for the people around me as well.

    1. @MorticiA – people enjoy being judgmental. It’s part of the fun of the internet! But yeah, arranging your life to get a high volume of sleep can be tough. I was actually kind of excited to see that 7h23m was enough for me. 3 out of 7 nights I just got 7h – and was fine. I think as long as I don’t go below 7, I’m great. Under that (as I had for 2 nights this week with travel) and I’m a lot less efficient. Arranging my life for 7h is going to be much easier than attempting for 8h. Especially if the 7h aren’t interrupted.

  20. Have you tried any of these apps like Sleep Meister or Sleep Cycle? They claim to use the iPhone’s motion detector to measure the length and quality of your sleep and you set an alarm to wake you up during the lightest phase of sleep during a half-hour window in the morning. I’ve been trying one for the past couple weeks. I normally don’t like alarms, but the alarm function works surprisingly well for me, when it goes off it usually wakes me up right away and I feel reasonably good.

    What’s been surprising to me is that I get less sleep than I think, according to the measures on the app. It takes me about 8 minutes to fall asleep after setting it, there are 1-2 wakings during the night, sometimes I notice these, sometimes I don’t, and then there is usually 10 minutes on the morning end before I really can get out of bed. So there is often ~30 minutes of time in bed but not sleeping.

    1. @Karen – I have heard people recommend those. It’s easier to wake from light sleep than deep sleep. Interrupting the deep sleep is painful, which may be one reason people hit snooze. They aren’t thinking about it because they’re not really awake.

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