How many hours of sleep do university students need?

shows a student sleeping

Most university students (including me) are sleep deprived. In fact, its such an issue that it has its own Wikipedia page! Of course, the solution is getting more sleep, but one should be careful since oversleeping could also be harmful. So how many hours of sleep should you as a university student get?

According to The National Sleep Foundation university students (aged 18 – 25) should get from 7 to 9 hours of sleep. However, this is only an approximation since everyone is different (genetically). As a result, some students might need more sleep, while others might need less sleep. Let’s see why sleep is important, what determines how much sleep you need and how can you figure out exactly how much sleep you need.

What determines how much sleep a university student might need?

So now you know that sleep is important and you want to learn how much sleep you need for optimal performance. Well, hold your horses . Before answering that it is important for you to understand that everyone has different sleep needs.

This means that while some super humans can survive on 6 hours of sleep (don’t celebrate it’s not you) some might need 10 hours of sleep to function properly. According to Harvard Medical School, there are two main factors that determine how much sleep you might need: genetics and age.

gray and black owl on tree branch during daytime

Different genes might have a significant impact on the amount of sleep you need and, and also whether you are an “owl” or a “lark” – whether you prefer to wake up early in the morning or stay up late (Harvard Medical School).

Furthermore, age plays also a significant role in how much sleep you might need. According to the National Sleep Foundation, newborns might need as much as 17 hours of sleep every day. However, as you grow older, you start to need less and less sleep.

For example, school-age children (6 to 13 years old) can need from 9 to 11 hours every day, while adults (26 – 64 years old) and young adults (18 – 28 years old) might need anywhere from 7 to 9 hours of sleep every day.

So essentially, your age determines an approximate range of sleep you might need, while your genetics determine where exactly in that range you fall.

How to figure out much sleep do you exactly need as a university student?

There are a ton of articles about that on the internet, but if we are being honest almost none of them give you an exact number. And now you know the reason why. Because this number is slightly different for everyone. So how do you figure out the amount of sleep you might need as a university student?

According to Harvard’s Dr. J. Epstein, a handy way to figure out how much sleep is enough is to take a period of time where you can sleep as much as you need – take the so-called “Sleep Vacation”. This is essentially a two week period, during which you would have to pick a consistent bedtime and not use an alarm clock. Allowing yourself to wake up naturally, will reveal how much sleep does your body exactly needs.

woman sits on brown wooden beach chair

Initially due to the so-called “sleep debt” you might sleep longer than you actually need. But eventually, after several days of quality sleep, you will pay off your sleep debt and will start to observe a pattern of sleep. Once you have established this pattern – congratulations – you have determined how much sleep you exactly need!

How to determine the optimal bedtime?

As mentioned not everyone is the same, and as a result, not everyone has the same optimal bedtime.

According to research conducted by Roenneberg et al. some of us are “Larks” (prefer to wake up early and go to bed early), some of us are “Owls” (prefer to wake up late and go to bed early) and most of us are “Third birds” (somewhere in between).

The easiest way of figuring out which one are you is calculating the so-called midpoint of sleep. You can do it by finding the midpoint between the time you usually go do bed and wake up. For example, if you go to bed at 11 pm and wake up at 7 am then your midpoint is 4 am.

Although this will give you a sense of what kind of “bird” you are it will not give you the exact time. To more exactly determine your bedtime we recommend taking the Horne-Ostberg Morning-Eveningness Questionnaire.

But what about the quality of sleep?

Quality of sleep is as important as the length of sleep. If you are constantly waking up in the middle of the night or suffering from insomnia – then once again you are gaining sleep debt.

In fact, the study found that people who slept six or fewer hours functioned just as well as those who slept six to eight hours – if their sleep was of high quality.

I wake up every morning at 2:47. What does that mean? - Quora

Good sleep has five cycles and the most important part of these cycles is the so-called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. It’s the stage of sleep during which you dream and are forming new memories.

If you do not get quality sleep and wake up often – you are losing out on REM sleep, which is crucially important to your wellbeing.

Therefore, you should make sure that you not only sleep enough but also that your sleep is of good quality as well.

If you want to learn more about how to have more quality sleep as a student check out our article: 24 tips on how to get more quality sleep at university.

The importance of sleep for university students

Lastly, we have been talking a lot about sleep, but why should you sleep in the first place?

According to Dr. William C. Dement, who is regarded as a father of sleep medicine, sleep is as important as exercise and nutrition. Like proper nutrition and exercise, proper sleep can lead to numerous benefits, many of which could really boost your performance at the university:

white cat sleeps under white comforter
  • Better grades (University of Georgia)
  • Improved productivity, memory and concentration (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
  • Good sleepers tend to eat fewer calories (8, 11, 12)
  • Better immune function (13, 14)
  • Great mood (15)
  • Improved athletic performance (16, 17)

Final thoughts

Congratulations! Now you know when to go to bed, how long to sleep and when to wake up to have the most optimal performance at the university!

However, just knowing has never helped anyone – the most important thing is that you act on this information. And for learning how to do that we recommend you to check out our new article: The ultimate guide to sleep for students.

Danielius Korsakas

Has a BSc in Economics and currently is pursuing a double master's degree in very fluffy but interesting subjects. Loves learning and building stuff.

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