How much sleep do we need?
How much sleep do we need?
If you have read our previous blog posts “The importance of sleep” and “10 health benefits of sleep” you will now have a better understanding of sleep and the related benefits associated with this fundamental activity.
The question though is “how much sleep do we need to reap the benefits? And what is sleeping too little or sleeping too much?” We will explore these topics in this blog post, the next part of this series of posts about sleep.
Everyone’s sleep needs vary from individual to individual and across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. As such, researchers say there is no “magic number”. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult sleeps less than seven hours per night. Although some individuals are able to function with little sleep (as little as six hours of sleep), these people are a minority.
Researchers at the University of California discovered that some people have a gene that enables them to do well on six hours of sleep a night. This gene, however, is very rare, appearing in less than 3% of the population. For the other 97% of us, six hours is not enough and although we can get by with little sleep, there is a big difference between that and the actual amount of sleep we need to perform at our optimum and maintain our body and mind at peak health. On-going sleep deficiency can lead to serious physical and mental health problems; therefore, it’s important that we get the adequate amount of quality sleep.
Although research cannot pinpoint an exact amount of sleep needed by people at different ages, the table below identifies a “rule-of-thumb” for the recommended amount of sleep most experts have agreed upon.
|Recommended Amount of Sleep
|16-18 hours a day
|11-12 hours a day
|At least 10 hours a day
|9-10 hours a day
|7-8 hours a day
There is no magic number
As identified in the table above, different age groups need different amount of sleep. Also, as previously stated sleep needs are also individual.
Another reason why there is no “magic number” for the recommended amount of sleep you require comes from two different factors that researchers are learning about: a person’s basal sleep need – the amount of sleep our bodies need on a regular basis for optimal performance – and sleep debt, the accumulated sleep that is lost to poor sleep habits, sickness, and awakenings due to environmental factors or other causes.
The best way to figure out if you are meeting your sleep needs is to evaluate how you feel as you go about your day. If you are sleeping the right amount of hours your body requires, you will feel energetic and alert all day long. If that is the case, you have found your “magic number”!
What are basal sleep and sleep debt?
Basal sleep is the amount of sleep our body needs on a regular basis in order to maintain a person’s health, happiness and well-being.
If we routinely lose sleep or choose to sleep less than we need, the sleep loss adds up. The difference between basal sleep and the hours we actually sleep is called sleep debt. Every time we sacrifice on sleep, we add to the debt. Eventually, the sleep debt will have to be repaid.
Some people resort to having power naps in order to combat the sleepiness caused by sleep debt. Power-naps may provide a short-term boost in alertness and performance. However, napping doesn't provide all of the other benefits of night-time sleep.
What can you do to avoid getting into sleep debt? Firstly you need to pay off the sleep debt!
Repaying your sleep debt
Catching up on sleep at the weekends might seem the answer to sleep debt, but it is not enough!
Although extra sleep on days off might help you feel better and give you a temporary boost, your performance and energy levels will drop back down as the days pass. It can also upset your body's sleep–wake rhythm. Therefore, you cannot pay off sleep debt in a night or even a weekend.
With a little effort and planning, you can pay off your sleep debt and get back on track. Follow these simple tips for getting and staying out of sleep debt [source: http://www.helpguide.org/]
- Aim for at least seven and a half hours of sleep every night – Make sure you don’t fall farther in debt by blocking off enough time for sleep each night. Consistency is the key.
- Settle short-term sleep debt with an extra hour or two per night – If you lost 10 hours of sleep, pay the debt back in nightly one or two-hour instalments.
- Keep a sleep diary – Record when you go to bed, when you get up, your total hours of sleep, and how you feel during the day. As you keep track of your sleep, you’ll discover your natural patterns and get to know your sleep needs.
- Take a sleep vacation to pay off a long-term sleep debt – Pick a two-week period when you have a flexible schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and allow yourself to sleep until you wake up naturally. No alarm clocks! If you continue to keep the same bedtime and wake up naturally, you’ll eventually dig your way out of debt and arrive at the sleep schedule that’s ideal for you.
- Make sleep a priority – Just as you schedule time for work and other commitments, you should schedule enough time for sleep. Instead of cutting back on sleep in order to tackle the rest of your daily tasks, put sleep at the top of your to-do list.
By understanding your nightly sleep needs and what you can do to bounce back from chronic sleep loss, you can finally get on a healthy sleep schedule.
Too little or too much sleep?
Though researchers are still learning about the concept of basal sleep need research has shown that harmful effects on adult health have been associated with sleeping too little and with sleeping too much.
In the blog post “The Importance of Sleep” we stated that sleep deficiency can cause problems with learning, focusing and reacting. Chronic sleep deficiency can lead to more serious physical and mental health conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, depression, diabetes and obesity – and in severe cases can even cause death.
But what about sleeping too much? More than eight hours on a regular basis can also lead to depression, high blood pressure and heart disease. Also, those who average more than nine hours of sleep per night are twice as likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
Researchers caution that there is no definitive conclusion that getting more than nine hours of sleep per night is consistently linked with health problems and/or mortality in adults. "Currently, there is no strong evidence that sleeping too much has detrimental health consequences, or even evidence that our bodies will allow us to sleep much beyond what is required," says Kristen L. Knutson, PhD, Department of Health Studies, University of Chicago. "There is laboratory evidence that short sleep durations of 4-5 hours have negative physiological and neurobehavioral consequences. We need similar laboratory and intervention studies to determine whether long sleep durations (if they can be obtained) result in physiological changes that could lead to disease before we make any recommendations against sleep extension."
But a key question is how much is too much or too little?
A six-year study of more than one million adults ages 30 to 102 conducted by researchers at the University of California and the American Cancer Society found the highest mortality rate among those who slept less than four hours or more than eight hours a night. The lowest death rates were found among those who averaged six to seven hours of sleep.
The researchers who conducted the study, Shawn Youngstedt and Daniel Kripke, argue that for those who would normally sleep longer than eight hours, restricting their sleep may actually be healthier for them.
All these studies tend to suggest that adults who sleep seven to eight hours a night are the healthiest.
The important thing though it is to listen to your body. Sleeping when your body is ready to sleep is very important.
Sometimes this is not always possible. For example, people whose sleep is out of sync with their body clocks (such as shift workers) or are routinely interrupted (such as caregivers or emergency responders) will need to pay special attention to their sleep needs to avoid falling into chronic sleep debt.
What can you do to improve your sleep?
We will cover this topic in more detail in our next blog post by providing “healthy sleep tips”.
In the meantime you could start by assessing your own individual needs and habits. See how you respond to different amounts of sleep. Pay careful attention to your mood, energy levels and health after a poor night's sleep versus a good one. It’s a matter of trial and error until you find your “magic number”!
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If you want to get rid of stress, sleep better, awaken truly refreshed and increase your daily energy and mental clarity then make far infrared clothing a lifestyle choice. Start your “wellness” journey today…