Why Science Says 6 Hours of Sleep Isn't Enough for Entrepreneurs Studies show that sleeping may be more important to achieving success than anyone realized.

By John Boitnott

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Luis Alvarez | Getty Images

As an entrepreneur, you may "burn the midnight oil" or brag about catching just a few hours of sleep because your work is so impressive and all-consuming. That isn't sustainable, of course. Deep down you know it's best to get more than just a few hours of sleep. Maybe you'd be surprised to discover just how much more shut-eye you truly need.

It turns out that even those who get six hours each night aren't doing much to further their cause. It may take a bit more to get the real restorative benefits that a truly restful slumber provides.

Related: Sleep In and Make Millions: Why You Don't Need to Wake Up at 5 A.M.

Although anywhere from six to eight hours has long-been considered a magic bullet range for rest, scientific research suggests something else. For better physical health, mental clarity and emotional well-being, entrepreneurs simply need more sleep each night, no matter how great they feel.

Why sleep matters

The American Thoracic Society has some of the more recent relevant research on this topic. It notes that sleep is necessary to help our bodies take care of a lot of vital, fundamental work. This includes forming memories, repairing muscles, and releasing important hormones that control appetite and growth. Sleep is a restorative process, helping with everything from recovering from a cold to bouncing back from injury.

The effect of too little sleep

Meanwhile, take sleep away — even as little as an hour — and risk of physical, mental and emotional issues climb, says the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology. Insufficient sleep results in increased risk of obesity, injuries, accidents, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression and many chronic illnesses. And especially important for entrepreneurs, lack of sleep can also negatively affect productivity, alertness and reaction time.

These findings are similar to those found in a study of Chinese adults published in 2019. It showed those who slept six hours or less reported being unhappy more often. In contrast, those that averaged more than seven hours of sleep most often stated they were happy. Overall findings illustrated how sleep can influence emotions, perspective and state of mind.

Related: Why Rest and Sleep Are the Secret to Entrepreneurial Success

A study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing in 2017 showed links between sleep and job performance. Researchers found nurses who slept six hours or less on their shift days experienced a higher rate of job burnout. Nurses with poor job performance also experienced a greater lack of sleep.

How much sleep do we really need?

So, many studies show six hours isn't enough. How much do we actually need? The National Sleep Foundation oversaw a two-year study to better assess this. It included 18 scientists and researchers with six sleep specialists. It included representatives from groups like the American Physiological Society and the American Psychiatric Association.

They figured out how much sleep adults in different age ranges need:

  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours

  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours

  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

Research from Rand Health Quarterly backed it up. That study found those who sleep less than six hours per night have a 13-percent higher mortality risk than those that get seven and nine hours of sleep.

Is it sleep quantity, quality or both?

The aforementioned numbers are targets. This is because, as individual small business owners, we each have our own optimal sleep needs. This is when we should talk about the quality of sleep.

Related: 10 Ways to Make Money While You Sleep

Sleep quality centers around how well you sleep. This includes the ability to fall asleep in 30 minutes or less, sleep soundly, and if you can quickly drift back to sleep. Bad sleep quality centers around insomnia: restlessness and the inability to fall or stay asleep.

The short sleeper syndrome

SleepEducation.org found that not everyone requires the same amount of sleep due to genetic differences. There are short sleepers who get less than six hours each night and don't suffer from insomnia. However, this just isn't true for most people. Few are able to sleep less than six hours each night while remaining healthy long-term.

Getting better sleep

Here's what you can do to improve the quantity and quality of sleep, an essential component of succeeding as an entrepreneur:

  • Change your diet so you minimize caffeine and alcohol intake. These both disrupt your body's circadian rhythms and inhibit its ability to prepare for sleep.

  • Invest in a mattress and pillows that provide a comfortable environment, including firmness and coolness that induce sleep.

  • Take the time to exercise every day. Physically wearing out the body encourages restorative sleep necessary to repair muscles and fill depleted energy levels.

  • Keep to a schedule so that you go to bed and get up around the same time each day. As an entrepreneur, this can be challenging with a hectic schedule. However, try to schedule your time on the road or during stressful times to adhere to a similar schedule.

  • Keep a sleep diary to track your sleep quality. You can also use a wearable device that calculates your sleep time and quality.

Invest in your sleep

To succeed as an entrepreneur it's important to take care of your body and brain. That's where you will need to invest in quality sleep, exercise, a healthy diet and balanced lifestyle.

John Boitnott

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® VIP

Journalist, Digital Media Consultant and Investor

John Boitnott is a longtime digital media consultant and journalist living in San Francisco. He's written for Venturebeat, USA Today and FastCompany.

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