Optimize Your Sleep For Better Health and More Free Time

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Getting too much sleep is hazardous to your health — it may lead to higher risk for obesity, diabetes, and premature death. We’ve been brainwashed to think we need 8 hours of sleep a night, but sleep requirements vary greatly by age, stress level, and health. In fact, research suggests 7 hours might be the ideal amount of sleep the average adult needs per night, and getting 8 or more hours can lead to increased mortality — even more so than too little sleep!

All this talk about how we are sleep deprived and how we need more sleep is enough to, well, put me to sleep. Many experts have pounded the table that “improving job performance may be as easy as getting a good night’s sleep” and that “getting a good night’s sleep is the single best way you never thought of to improve your abilities and human capital literally overnight.”

Hogwash! Not only can too much sleep be bad for your health, it can rob you of your other 8 hours. If you work 8 and sleep 9, that only leave 7 hours for you to pursue your goals and live your life. Every hour, minute, and second you sleep more than you need to is a complete waste of time and your life.

Too little or too much sleep can lead to low energy and mental sluggishness. Your goal is to get an optimum amount of sleep, which I define as the least amount of sleep possible while still feeling physically energized and mentally alert. So how do you know how much sleep you need? Test, test, test. Here’s what to do:

Step 1
Start with 8 ½ hours of sleep. Make sure you get the full 8 ½ hours. No more and no less.

Step 2
The next day, complete the Sleep Optimization Form.  This is a simple form to gauge how you feel (physically and mentally) at different times during the day. Because stress, eating habits, and a host of other factors can influence our energy levels and outlook, try to keep all other variables constant (i.e., unchanged as possible).

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Step 3
Repeat Steps 1 and 2 for four nights in a row.

Step 4
Reduce your sleep by 30 minutes and start the sleep/test process again for four nights in a row. Keep cutting your sleep in Step 1 by 30 minutes until you reach 7 hours.

Step 5
Analyze the data. Review your Sleep Optimization Form and identify which days you felt the best (based on higher scores). If you find that you feel good on 8 ½ hours of sleep, but you also feel good on 7 ½ hours of sleep, you’ve just saved yourself an hour a night and given yourself an extra 30 hours a month to create something.

If you really want to get fancy, you can test 15 minute increments (e.g., 7 hours and 45 minutes versus 8 hours). Remember, we’re trying to identify the absolute minimum amount of sleep you need because every minute you aren’t sleeping is another minute for you.

Now I just hope I don’t lose any sleep over contradicting all of the other experts…

Robert Pagliarini writes for CBS MoneyWatch and is the author of three books including the latest, The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth and Purpose. For a limited time, you can download several free resources (assessment, poster, audio interview, video, and more) from the book at

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