How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Really Need?
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No matter who you are, sleep is essential for your health. However, when life gets busy, it can be one of the first things to get neglected or sacrificed. This is unfortunate because getting enough sleep is as vital to good health as eating healthy foods or getting enough exercise.
Sleep is the foundation for good health
Sleep is more than just a time for your body and mind to rest. In fact, while you’re asleep, your body remains active. During this time, your body rebuilds muscles you’ve worn down during the day and removes toxins in the brain that accumulate while you’re awake. It’s also essential for keeping your memories intact.
Sleep is likewise vital in helping you regulate your emotions. Being sleep deprived for just one night can increase your emotional response to negative feelings by 60%.
Furthermore, sleep deprivation can affect your body’s ability to regulate essential functions like appetite control, your immune system, metabolism, and body weight. Lastly, sleep plays a vital role in maintaining your circadian rhythm or internal clock.
Your inner biological clock runs on an approximately 24-hour schedule controlling the sleep-wake cycle. It may also influence your metabolism, inflammation, and how you respond to stress.
Not sleeping long enough, sleeping at odd times of the day, and exposure to bright light at night can disrupt your internal clock and the many processes it regulates.
Additionally, though you may think you’re getting ample rest, not all sleep is created equal. It’s not only essential to get enough each night but also important to get good quality sleep.
Nevertheless, there isn’t a consensus regarding what defines sleep quality. However, it may be determined by how long it takes you to fall asleep, how often you wake up during the night, how rested you feel the next day, and how much time you spend in different stages of sleep. Since sleep is essential for so many aspects of good health, you should make getting enough each night a high priority.
Not prioritizing it has negative health consequences
It’s estimated that about one-third of adults and two-thirds of high school students don’t get enough sleep each night. Unfortunately, not getting enough sleep can cause issues other than feeling tired.
If you’re sleep deprived, you may engage in poor decision-making, be less creative, and have an increased risk of motor vehicle accidents. This could be because not getting enough sleep may affect cognitive performance.
One study found that getting only 5 hours per night for 4 nights in a row negatively affected mental performance to the same extent as having a blood alcohol content of 0.06. As if that wasn’t enough, poor sleep can lead to negative moods, less productivity, and unseemly behavior at work.
Even worse, getting poor quality or not enough sleep can increase your chances of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. And because it’s the time when your body clears waste from the brain, it may be the reason why poor sleep seems to be associated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
How much sleep you need depends on several things
Everyone has unique needs and preferences, and individual sleep requirements are no different. Nevertheless, the amount of sleep you need per night is primarily determined by your age. Official recommendations for sleep duration are broken down by age group:
- Older adults (65+): 7–8 hours
- Adults (18–64 years): 7–9 hours
- Teenagers (14–17 years): 8–10 hours
- School children (6–13 years): 9–11 hours
- Preschoolers (3–5 years): 10–13 hours (including naps)
- Toddlers (1–2 years): 11–14 hours (including naps)
- Infants (4–12 months): 12–15 hours (including naps)
- Newborns (0–3 months): 14–17 hours
However, some people might need more or less sleep than is generally recommended, depending on the following factors.
Your genetics are a determining factor in how many hours of sleep you need per night. Some genetic mutations can affect how long you need to sleep, what time of day you prefer to sleep, and how you respond to sleep deprivation.
For example, those with one specific genetic mutation need only around 6 hours, whereas people without it require about 8 hours, on average. And people carrying certain other genetic mutations are more negatively affected by sleep deprivation or experience deeper sleep. However, your genetic makeup isn’t something you can change, and there’s no practical way to know whether you carry one of these mutations. Therefore, it’s essential to pay attention to how you feel to determine whether you’re getting the right amount of sleep.
The quality of your sleep can also affect how much you need. If your sleep quality is poor, you may find that you still feel tired after getting what should be considered enough.
Conversely, if you’re getting good quality sleep, you may manage better with a little less. Studies have found that short sleep duration and poor sleep quality are responsible for many adverse sleep-related effects. Therefore, it’s not only important to focus on sleeping long enough but also on sleeping well enough.
Additionally, many common sleep disorders can negatively affect your sleep quality. If you often feel like you aren’t sleeping well or are extremely tired and don’t know why, it’s a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider.
Tips for better sleep
Since quality is important, try to ensure you’re sleeping well all night. Here are a few tips to improve your sleep:
- Follow a regular schedule. Going to bed at the same time each night helps regulate your inner clock. Following an irregular sleep schedule has been linked to poor sleep quality and duration.
- Create a calming bedtime routine. Adopting a relaxing routine before bed can help you get in the mood to sleep. For example, listening to music has been shown to help improve sleep.
- Create a comfortable environment. Sleeping in a quiet, dark room at a comfortable temperature can help you sleep better. Being too active before bed, too warm, or in a noisy environment is linked to poor sleep
- Minimize caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Studies have linked caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine use to poorer sleep quality. Try to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening
- Reduce your use of electronics. The excessive use of cell phones and electronics has been associated with poor sleep quality. Even exposure to bright room lights before bed may negatively affect your sleep.
- Be more active. Studies have shown that being inactive is associated with poorer sleep, and conversely, getting exercise during the day may help you sleep better at night.
- Practice meditation. Meditation and relaxation training may improve sleep quality and brain function, although the research isn’t clear.