Is 4 Hours of Sleep Better Than None At All?

None of us are strangers to the tempting pull of “just one more episode,” or perhaps it’s the lowlight of a dim lamp and the never-ending turn of glossy pages in an expensive text book that’s preventing you from catching some shut-eye. Whether you’re voluntarily staying up late for extra entertainment or you’re doing it out of exam necessity, the detrimental effects to your wellbeing will be more than obvious the following morning. 

Our bodies need sleep to effectively function. Adults are told to aim for seven or more hours of sleep a night while young children should be getting somewhere between nine and twelve hours, on account of their still-developing bodies that require more rest. Unfortunately, life is a constant whirlwind of stress, commitments, and a mountain of other time-consuming undertakings that gradually start to chip away into our sleeping hours. 

It might seem advantageous to play catch-up with an all-nighter every so often. After all, you’ve already cut your sleeping time in half to accomplish things you didn’t have time for during normal daylight hours, so what’s the harm in knocking out four more hours? As it turns out, some sleep is better than no sleep at all, even if it is only for a few measly hours. Let’s dive into the research and explore more of the following points:

  • The science of sleep and why it is so important 
  • Why 4 hours of sleep is better than none at all
  • The negative impacts of not getting enough sleep

Sleep 101

What Exactly is Sleep and Why Do We Need It?

Everyone knows what sleeping is, but what about the science behind it? There’s quite a lot that goes into the sleeping process that many folks may not be very familiar with, but don’t worry about getting lost in complicated explanations; it’s fairly straightforward once you get down to it. 

Sleep is, at its core, an altered state of consciousness where we have limited interactions with our external surroundings and are, typically, quiet and still (though that also depends on the stage of sleep). In contrast to our motionless and silent physical state, the brain remains active and carries out many crucial functions while asleep. 

Our bodily processes rely on sleep to appropriately function, and a night of binging TV shows or reading highlighted text until you hear the early morning chirps of birds does not allot for sufficient recharge time. Sleep is an essential factor of every body process, affecting the state of our mental and physical health the next day, our ability to combat disease and develop immunity, our metabolism, and basically every other aspect of our health. 

Sleep touches on many different parts of our overall well-being, from the psychological to the physical. A night filled with disturbances and restlessness is no fun, especially when you wake up the following morning and feel like a shell of a functioning human being because you only managed to get an hour of rest in total.

Luckily for us, a night of quality rest is relatively easy to achieve. While it is true that many individuals struggle with sleep quality and are unable to get the rest their bodies require for optimal wellness, the actual steps to good sleep aren’t complicated. From activities you participate in right before bedtime to your headspace, there are many factors you control that have a direct influence on how you feel when you go to bed

A woman sleeping in front of her open laptop
Our bodies depend on sleep to stay healthy, but getting a sufficient night of rest is easier said than done. Sleep does not always come when we want it to, but getting 4 hours of sleep is better than none. 

Getting to Know the Sleep Cycle

There are four sleep stages that can be subsequently divided into two categories: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Between the two of them, NREM is more prominent during sleep, making up about 75 to 80 percent of the entire sleep cycle. 

  • Stage 1 (NREM) – The first stage, referred to as N1, is the lightest stage of sleep and only lasts for around five minutes. During these initial minutes, your heart rate, brain waves, and breathing begin to slow down and your muscles relax. 
  • Stage 2 (NREM) – The second stage, referred to as N2, lasts around twenty-five minutes and gets longer per each additional cycle. In this stage, your body temperature drops while other bodily functions continue to slow. 
  • Stage 3 (NREM) – The third stage, which may be referred to as N3 or “deep sleep,” is when the body begins to repair itself and strengthens the immune system. This stage can be difficult to wake up from, and even loud noises may go by unnoticed. 
  • Stage 4 (REM) – This stage is known as REM sleep, which you may be somewhat familiar with on account of the REM cycle is the stage of sleep where you are most likely to dream. It begins about ninety minutes after you fall asleep and repeats with each cycle. REM sleep can be characterized by paralyzed muscles and rapid eye movement beneath the eyelids.  

The Advantages of Getting a Full Night of Sleep

There are plenty of reasons that should serve to motivate you to get a full night of sleep every single night. Sleep promotes good health by giving you the rest you need to recharge and feel ready for the next day. 

Better Sleep Results in a Better Mood

If you go through the night without getting a wink of sleep, don’t think you can just bypass the negative effects the following day. Sleep has a direct impact on mood and not getting enough of it can make you feel irritable, lethargic, and overall dead to the rest of the world. 

On the other side of things, a night filled with quality rest and minimal disturbances will result in positive benefits and a general feeling of being well-rested. Your body needs to recharge at the end of the day in order to have the energy needed for tomorrow, and since mood is tied to energy levels, it isn’t difficult to understand why rest is fundamental to being in a good mood. 

Sleep Improves Memory

While your body slumbers and catches up on the rest it desperately needs, your mind remains hard at work processing and consolidating the day’s memories. Not getting enough sleep can cause issues with fully processing the day’s events, running the risk of forgetting them or misremembering them. Prioritize getting a full night of rest so that you give your brain the chance to process all of the activities of the day. 

Sleeping Increases Productivity 

The urge to stay up late and work by the light of the moon is tempting when you’re drowning in a pool of assignments and overdue tasks, but burning the midnight oil may actually do a lot more harm than good. 

Putting off a quality night of rest can have adverse effects on your ability to accomplish work the following day. If you stay up all night to play catch up with responsibilities, then you are not giving your body time to recuperate from the day’s events. Your metaphorical gas tank is running out of fuel and won’t make it through tomorrow, preventing you from performing to your best ability. 

Even coffee won’t be able to keep you going forever and cannot serve as a replacement for sleep. The more cups you drink, the greater the feelings of burnout will be once the caffeine high wears off. 

Sleep is Good for the Immune System and Heart

While your body catches up on the rest it needs during sleep, your immune cells and proteins also get a chance to rest so that they are prepared to fight off new potential sickness, like colds and the flu. 

Heart health is another aspect of your well-being that is positively affected by sleep. A lack of sleep can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure and heart attacks, but sleep gives your heart the opportunity to rest and recharge just like everything else. 

To Sleep or Not to Sleep, Is 4 Hours of Sleep Better Than None?

If It’s Down to a Couple Hours or None, Which is Best?

When the urge to down another cup of coffee hits and the thought of pulling an all-nighter becomes ever more tempting, be aware of the potential consequences. Staying awake all night long and getting absolutely no sleep can be hazardous for your health, as you are not giving your body a sufficient amount of time to recharge. 

Choosing to not sleep also interferes with your circadian rhythm, which functions as the body’s internal clock that causes you to feel tired at night and awake during the daytime. As the time that you normally go to sleep approaches, you experience a gradual increase in the presence of sleep pressure. This sleep pressure is a pronounced feeling of tiredness that can only be satiated through shut-eye, and it will continue to get stronger the longer you stay awake. 

Ignoring sleep pressure can be dangerous. The more tired you feel, the more likely you are to make mistakes and confuse the reality of things around you. Certain activities that require thinking, such as driving, become exceptionally more dangerous to those addled by tired brains. 

When it comes down to it, don’t put off sleep in hopes of catching up on daytime responsibilities. No job is worth sacrificing your health for, and since sleep is a huge factor in your overall well-being, getting a refreshing night of rest is non-negotiable if you want to feel energized for tomorrow. 

Downsides of Skipping Sleep for a Night

We’ve established that you really shouldn’t be staying up all night, as it is a negative influence on your health. However, just because it isn’t something you should be doing doesn’t negate the possibility of it happening. After all, life is a constant mess of jobs and stress and other things that make you stay up at night, so it’s reasonable to encounter the occasional sleepless night filled with constant tossing and turning. 

While a rare night of restlessness isn’t too big of a deal, missing an excessive amount of sleep isn’t good for your health long-term. But even if you suffer from chronic sleep disorders and persistent insomnia, rest assured that there are preventative steps and strategies that you can adopt to promote sleep and get the rest you deserve. 

Effects of a Lack of Sleep 

  • Impaired reaction time
  • Irritability and mood issues
  • Poor concentration 
  • Poor judgment 
  • Impaired short-term memory
  • Increased pain and stress
A cat sleeping on a chair

All animals need sleep, and we humans aren’t any exception. Always make sure you get the opportunity to rest so you can stay on top of your game and keep your health in check.

A good night’s sleep is only a short while away, so long as you put in the effort to achieve it. There are few things in the world that can compare to the satisfaction of a restful night and, honestly, that’s a good thing. Considering sleep is one the best activities for your body, you should always look forward to getting in a blissful night of snoozing so you can start the next day off on the right foot.   

You should consult a licensed health care professional before starting any supplement, dietary, or exercise program, especially if you are pregnant or have any pre-existing injuries or medical conditions.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases.

@dremilnutrition