How Much Sleep Do You Need? Does It Really Matter?

Findings from research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation indicate that a healthy adult needs 7-9 hours of sleep in order to be able to function at an optimal level. The study states that while duration requirements may differ depending on one’s age and lifestyle, the guidelines do hold for the general population, and specifically for individuals without a sleep disorder. Sleep is imperative for human beings. We all need to rest and rejuvenate so that we can be able to face the challenges of daily life. The following are the sleep guidelines for different segments of the population, showing daily requirements per age group

Age & Daily Hours of Sleep Required
Newborns (0 – 3 months): 14-17
Infants (4 – 11 months): 12-15
Toddlers (1 – 2 years): 11-14
Pre-school children (3 – 5 years) 10-13
School age children (6 -13 years) 9-11
Teenagers (14 – 17 years) 8 – 10
Younger adults (18 – 25 years) 7-9
Adults (26 – 64): 7 -9
Older adults (65 years+) 7-8

Deviations from the recommended daily sleeping hours, whether by getting too much or too little sleep, can result in the following according to scientific findings:

Increased risk of depression: a study conducted in 2014 showed that people who sleep 7-9 hours a night have a 27% risk of getting depressed but this percentage increased to 45% for people sleeping over 9 hours a night. However, people who are depressed are also known to have the tendency to sleep longer than average!

Heart Disease and death: Dr. Sheila Tsai, an assistant professor of medicine at the National Jewish Health Center Colorado and sleep expert says that people who get less than 6 hours sleep a night have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death. However, it should be noted that people burning the candle at both ends like those with highly stressful jobs and manic lifestyles that demand a lot of them mentally, physically or both have a higher risk of heart disease.

Weight Gain, diabetes and Obesity: Sleeping too little can affect your metabolism, and cause you to become insulin resistant. This can result in diabetes and even lead to weight gain. However, excess weight can lead to sleep problems that can disturb your sleep, such as snoring and sleep apnea. A sedentary lifestyle of vegging out on the sofa watching tv and eating snacks late into the night can also lead to weight gain, diabetes and getting too little sleep (I think you see where we are going with this)

Recent studies are inconclusive as to whether not getting enough sleep causes these adverse reactions or whether erratic sleeping patterns are simply a symptom of underlying health problems that would arise regardless of your sleep health. One example of this is people with sleep apnea. People with this sleeping disorder tend to sleep excessively and as a result may increase their chances of being affected by any of the conditions mentioned above. Further, the amount of sleep an individual needs cannot be generalized because different people have different sleeping needs based on genetics, lifestyle, age, activity level and medical history. Some people can survive on as little as four hours a night, while others will be the walking dead if they do not get a full ten hours.

How Much Sleep Do I really need?

So, how do you determine how many hours you need to sleep? We are all different and research cannot determine a one size fits all sleeping model for all of us. In order to assess your sleeping requirements, take the following factors into account:

1. Are you regularly tired to the point it affects your day to day functioning? If yes, seek medical advice and take steps to improve your sleep as naturally and sensibly as you can.

2. Are you suffering the odd bad night but can generally make it through your day unscathed safe in the knowledge you will eventually ‘catch up’ on your sleep? Stop worrying!

3. Are you just wishing you could sleep more than you do, and not wake frequently? Me too! Accept that this is generally the way we live now and that unless you answered ‘Yes’ to number 1. Buy a sleep machine, research natural sleep aids, put aside all glaring screens (ipads, iphones etc) at least an hour before bed, and rest assured a few sleepless nights are probably not going to kill you.

Conclusion

While scientists have provided important guidelines to help us improve on the quality of our sleep, the onus is on us to determine the sleeping patterns that work best for us. Listening to our body rhythms, checking on our energy levels during the day, making healthy lifestyle choices and taking care of any underlying health conditions will ensure that we can get a good night’s sleep and have enough energy to perform our day to day tasks. Oh, and don’t worry about sleep too much! It will have you tossing and turning all night!

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