Ask Us Anything: How much sleep do you actually need?

It matters more than you think.

Is your head constantly spinning with outlandish, mind-burning questions? If you’ve ever wondered what the universe is made of, what would happen if you fell into a black hole, or even why not everyone can touch their toes, then you should be sure to listen and subscribe to Ask Us Anything, a brand new podcast from the editors of Popular Science. Ask Us Anything hits Apple, Anchor, Spotify, and everywhere else you listen to podcasts every Tuesday and Thursday. Each episode takes a deep dive into a single query we know you’ll want to stick around for.

This week on Ask Us Anything, we investigated an age-old question: How much sleep do we need? Or, perhaps how many of us might think about it these days, how little sleep can we get away with while still functioning normally? To answer that first question, we traced the history of sleep studies back to a pair of researchers who spent 32 days living in a Kentucky cave completely devoid of sunlight. Understanding how the researchers slept under those conditions helped inform us about the optimal amount of sleep humans need and how our circadian rhythms factor in. 

And in the past decade or two, sleep researchers have performed similar studies (in air-conditioned labs, not Kentucky caves) with more participants which have added to our understanding of how sleep affects the human mind and body. And while the number of hours of sleep adults need might not surprise you, what happens to your body and brain when you get just slightly less than that optimal amount will certainly be an eye-opener. 

Tune in to this week’s episode of Ask Us Anything (and read the story that inspired it) to find out more!

Claire Maldarelli
Claire Maldarelli

is the Science Editor at Popular Science. She has a particular interest in brain science, the microbiome, and human physiology. In addition to Popular Science, her work has appeared in The New York Times, Scientific American, and Scholastic’s Science World and Super Science magazines, among others. She has a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology from the University of California, Davis and a master’s in science journalism from New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. Contact the author here.