You’re an overachiever. Last night, you did three loads of laundry, made veggie tempura (from scratch) to pack in your kid’s bento box and you’re the only one of your friends who actually finished the novel for book club. But that also means you only got…four hours of sleep? We all know that seven to eight hours is ideal, but is there any way to cheat the system? If only you could figure out how to get eight hours of sleep in four hours. And is that even possible? We tapped two sleep experts to find out the answer.
How can I sleep eight hours in four hours?
We hate to break it to you, but you can’t. There is no shortcut for a good night’s sleep, says Alex Dimitriu, MD, double board-certified in Psychiatry and Sleep Medicine and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine. “The body goes through specific stages of sleep, which we refer to as sleep architecture,” he explains. “We need a significant amount of deep sleep, and dream or REM sleep each night, and often to get enough of both, we need at least seven hours in bed.” That means there’s really no way to truly feel like you got eight hours of sleep (or experience the benefits) when you only got four. Sorry, friends.
But I feel fine. What’s so bad about only sleeping four hours?
Dolly Parton does it. So does Elon Musk. Some people may have a DNA mutation that allows them to function normally on very little sleep, says Dr. Venkata Buddharaju, a sleep specialist, board certified sleep physician and author of Better Sleep, Happier Life. “These natural short sleepers, even sleeping between around six hours, have no negative health consequences, are not sleepy and work well while awake,” he explains. “Work is in progress in this interesting area of sleep behavior and differential effects of sleep loss in humans.” But because these people are outliers and most of us need much more sleep, Dr. Buddharaju doesn’t recommend experimenting, even if you feel OK on fewer than seven hours. “More than just the duration, it’s the quality and continuous uninterrupted sleep period at regular times in sync with circadian rhythms [that] is important to maintain optimal health benefits,” he says, noting that less-than-adequate sleep can also put you at risk for fatigue, lapses in vigilance, a greater risk of car accidents and low productivity at work, as well as hypertension, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, memory impairment, dementia and decreased immunity. Yeah, we’re going to bed at ten tonight.
Is there any way to improve the quality of sleep I’m getting?
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, four hours of sleep is the best you can manage. It happens. Is there anything you can do to improve your sleep quality so you don’t feel like a zombie the next morning? Luckily, yes—although it’s no substitute for the real thing.
1. Maintain a consistent bedtime and wake-up time. When you’re in Paris, you don’t magically expect your body to adjust to the time zone in one night. So it makes sense that your circadian rhythm would have issues adjusting back to your six a.m. weekday wake-up time after staying up until two in the morning all weekend watching Bridgerton. The more consistent you can keep your bedtime and wake-up time, the better (yep, even on weekends).
2. No nightcaps allowed. We know what you’re thinking. “I feel so much more relaxed after I’ve had two glasses of wine!” But although wine, beer and other types of alcohol provide a sedative effect, that is not the same thing as sleep. Although you won’t remember tossing and turning throughout the night (because you’ll be, um, sedated), your quality of sleep will be compromised. You’ll be much more rested if you sip a glass of water or (decaf) tea after dinner.
3. Put your phone in a different room. We know, the urge to check Twitter one more time to see if your cat gif got any likes is strong. But there is a link between using screens before bed and an increase in the amount of time it takes to fall asleep, according to the National Sleep Foundation. An hour before bed, leave your phone in the living room, then read a book or meditate in the bedroom to start your relaxing wind-down routine.
I’m desperate and need a sleep cheat. What can I do to feel normal today?
Welp, it’s too late. You tried to get seven hours, but you got to bed late, then spent the night tossing and turning. You feel awful and have no idea how you’re going to get through the day. In this case, you might be able to get by if you drink a few cup of coffee or tea throughout the day and do your best. Just don’t make it a habit, warns Dr. Dimitriu. “Sleeping four hours and drinking lots of caffeine or using other stimulants may work in a very short term, but ultimately sleep deprivation sets in,” he says. Got it, doc.