Why Six Hours of Sleep is Not Enough

August 11, 2016

We all do our best to get enough sleep, but sometimes it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. And dancers have crazy schedules, whether you’re in the midst of a busy performance season, touring, or juggling classes and rehearsals. It’s easy to convince yourself that if you can just get six hours or so, you’ll be functional enough to get through the next day. But a study published in the journal Sleep found that getting six hours of shut-eye may be just as bad as not sleeping at all.

For the study, 48 adults were asked to limit their sleep to four, six or eight hours per night for two weeks—and one group didn’t sleep at all for three days. Researchers then kept track of each person’s cognitive performance, reaction time and mood.

Predictably, the eight-hour sleepers were the highest performers, while those who were only getting four hours a night did worse each day. Things got interesting with the six-hour sleepers. For about 10 days, they seemed to be doing fine—but in the last few days of the study, they performed as badly as the people who weren’t sleeping at all. They also didn’t seem to realize it, based on their own ratings of how sleepy they felt. The researchers concluded that sleeping six or fewer hours per night was as damaging as depriving yourself of sleep altogether for two days.

The results serve as a good reminder of how crucial it is to get a good night’s rest, and to pay attention to your overall sleep habits. We’re probably all going to have those six-hour nights once in awhile, but making sleep a priority in general is well worth it, so you can focus on dancing and performing at your best.