We hear it all the time, that we should aim for between seven and eight hours of sleep every night to reach our maximum potential. That's just unthinkable for some people, and if that's you, this will make you feel a lot better about your sleep habits.
According to Matt Bianchi, director of the sleep division of Massachusetts General Hospital, the accepted knowledge is slowly shifting more to the idea that everyone's a bit different. He cites different sleep patterns that have been successfully used throughout our history, like the so-called Dymaxion Sleep Schedule, which calls for 30-minute naps every six hours, and the Biphasic Schedule, which splits a nightly sleep into a three or four hour sleep followed by an hour awake, then another three or four hour sleep. Until electricity, in fact, that was pretty much the standard sleep cycle, and it wasn't until the 19th century that what had been a normal sleep schedule was considered abnormal. Studies from Virginia Tech and Brown Medical School support the idea, and some have found that if people are allowed to keep a sleep schedule not dictated by their waking hours, they'll default to this biphasic schedule.
And, of course, everyone's different. Professors at the University of California, San Francisco have found that some people carry a genetic mutation that allows them to get by perfectly fine on six hours of sleep a night, suggesting that it's a lot more individualized than we thought.