The PHB's description of long rests states:

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps or performs light activity: reading, talking, eating, or standing watch for no more than 2 hours. If the rest is interrupted by a period of strenuous activity—at least 1 hour of walking, fighting, casting spells, or similar adventuring activity—the characters must begin the rest again to gain any benefit from it.

I can see this as being read one of two ways:

  1. A character can spend 8 hours sleeping, or they can spend 8 hours reading, talking, eating, or standing watch. If they stand watch, it can be for no more than 2 hours.

  2. A character can spend 8 hours long resting, most of which is spent sleeping and up to 2 hours of which is spent performing light activity.

The Xanathar's Guide to Everything optional rules for the woodcarver's tool proficiency (on p. 85) provides a little more information:

Craft Arrows. As part of a short rest, you can craft up to five arrows. As part of a long rest, you can craft up to twenty. You must have enough wood on hand to produce them.

To me, this suggests interpretation #2, because if a short rest of 1 hour yields 5 arrows, surely a character could produce more than 20 arrows over the course of 8 hours.
If true, this would suggest that adventurers can truck along on 6 hours of sleep per night, forever, without consequence.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So XGtE indicates I don't need feathers or metal/stone to make arrows? A short rest is typically 1 hour so wouldn't it be 4 hours to make 20? May not be relavent but wondering on your math. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Sep 24 '18 at 18:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Presumably, if you have the tools necessary to make arrows, you have the fletching & tips necessary to complete them in your kit. Those can often be salvaged from broken, but recovered shafts. Having made my own arrows, the process is actually quite simple, not strenuous, and definitely qualifies as 'light activity'. Wandering the woods, looking for straight branches, suitable to become shafts, would take more than a single hour of walking, and therefore interrupt the rest period. On the other hand, that process is also simple enough to be hand-waved during longer downtime. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Sep 24 '18 at 19:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Slagmoth XGtE says it takes a short rest to make 5 arrows (1 hour = 5 arrows) and a long rest to make 20 arrows (2 hours = 20 arrows OR 8 hours = 20 arrows, depending on your answer to my question). The confusing math is the crux of my confusion, though I could have made that more clear. \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener Sep 24 '18 at 21:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus Would you prefer the link send you to pirated resources? There's a page number there for people with hardcopy, and a digital link for those who purchased the digital copy. If you have neither, there's a quote block below. There's something for everyone. In any case, both the link and page number are mod edits. \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener Sep 25 '18 at 12:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Adeptus XGtE is a copyrighted resource, and thus the only way to provide info from it is through official means. The link provided is one of the only ways to do so; it's the best way to link info without causing potential legal issues. \$\endgroup\$ – Doc Sep 25 '18 at 17:21

New errata confirms that you sleep for at least 6 hours and perform any light activity for no more than 2 hours.

Your second interpretation is thus correct. According to the v1.22 Player's Handbook errata:

A long rest is a period of extended downtime, at least 8 hours long, during which a character sleeps for at least 6 hours and performs no more than 2 hours of light activity, such as reading, talking, eating, or standing watch.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You may wish to add a note about elves, who don't sleep but instead must trance. The specific rule for elves requires only a 4 hour trance, which overrides the general rule of sleeping for 6 + 2 hours of light activity. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Sep 24 '18 at 19:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly, the 'light activity', as a category, can take up no more than 2 hours of the 8 hour 'long rest'. The list (reading, talking, eating, or standing watch) is provided to give examples of what qualifies as 'light activity'. \$\endgroup\$ – Theo Brinkman Sep 24 '18 at 19:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ See also this post about Warforged: What are the consequences for a Warforged that does not spend 6 hours in its inactive state? \$\endgroup\$ – Davo Feb 26 '19 at 16:41

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