The simple answer to the question “How much sleep does a person need actually need?” is we don’t know. The consensus among Behavioral Sleep Medicine practitioners and Sleep Medicine physicians is that any amount of sleep between six and 10 hours per night is within the “normal” range for most people. Of course there are outliers that can get by with four or five hours of sleep per night. And there are those who require 11 hours of sleep per night to feel rested, but those cases are rare.
A good way to gage the amount of sleep one needs is to look at typical sleep patterns of various age groups. For example, newborn babies can sleep up to 20 hours a day and that is normal. Teenagers need about 10 hours of sleep but they rarely get it all at one time. A lot of teenagers come home from school and crash for three hours before even beginning their homework. But they go to bed long after midnight and then have to be up at 6 AM for school the next day. Senior citizens need about 7 hours of sleep per night but, like teenagers, they aren’t typically able to claim all those hours at one time. For various reasons, they wake up throughout the night and often have to supplement their total sleep time with a nap in order to get adequate rest.
Perhaps the best way to know how much sleep you need is to compare how much sleep you got the night before you felt great throughout and entire day with how much sleep you got the night before you were exhausted throughout the day. You’ll have to keep all things equal on both days in order to get an accurate idea of what is best for you. For example, you’ll have to have the same caffeine intake, keep the same nutritional habits. The bottom line is that you are in the best position to determine what amount of sleep is best for you. When in doubt, it may be wise to consult a Behavioral Sleep Therapist who can help you discern between how many hours of sleep you want, how many hours of sleep you need, and how many hours you’ll realistically be able to achieve most nights.