How Much Sleep is Good Sleep?
As individuals, we all have our own specific needs for nightly restorative sleep. The variables are many and include your sex, age, genetics and other physical conditions. Snoring or sleep apnea may also be factors. A new white paper produced by the National Sleep Foundation attempts to answer that age-old question: “How do I know how much sleep my body needs?”
As the Sleep Foundation explains in its comprehensive new white paper, every individual has their own unique requirement for the amount of sleep they need to feel its restorative effects, and to feel alert and productive throughout the day. As they stated “a simple definition of sufficient sleep is a sleep duration that is followed by a spontaneous awakening and leaves one feeling refreshed and alert for the day.”
Over the past few decades, it has been documented that Americans are getting less and less sleep. In 1959 for example, middle-aged adults got an average amount of sleep of between 8-9 hours a night. Whereas in 1992 the average amount of sleep by the same age group was 7-8 hours. They cite a recent study, the National Health Interview Survey, reports adults across several different occupations reported that they’re sleeping only 6 hours or less per night, an increase of this group to 30% from 24% over the last 20 years.
But is this lack of sleep a danger their health? According to the Sleep Foundation, “these findings probably demonstrate the development of widespread partial sleep deprivation or sleep ’restriction’ which is most likely related to external environmental or social factor(s) such as the need to work more than one job or longer work shifts rather than a biologic change in need for sleep.” Certainly it can be when considering that shortening the amount of time in restful sleep can produce negative consequences in quality of life, job performance, mood, and as recent reports conclude, health issues such as increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
When assessing how much sleep you need, it’s important to be in tune to your own body and understand what you need to personally function properly. The National Sleep Foundation describes a common type of research that “examines changes in performance of specific tasks following normal sleep duration and compares it to performance after a period of sleep restriction.” For example, they mention studies that reduce participants’ sleep from 8 to 6 hours, which left them significantly sleepier the next day. When sleep was restricted to 5 or 6 hours per night, participants showed increased sleepiness and delayed response time such as taking a longer amount of time to apply their car brakes. Additionally, participants’ short-term memories were decreased, they had poor performance on newly learned or complex tasks, and they had difficulty paying attention.
Depriving people of more than 5 hours of sleep per night has shown significant affects in raising participants’ heart rate and blood pressure, increased inflammation of a protein marker which has been proposed as a risk factor for coronary artery disease, and impaired glucose tolerance which can lead to diabetes. Recently there was a study that also showed that a lack of sleep causes the body to produce a hormone that increases appetite, which can lead to obesity. The Sleep Foundation also cites a study that showed that people who did not get enough sleep over a prolonged period of their life are at risk for earlier mortality, most likely because of the many health reasons mentioned.
To know your body’s ideal sleep time is to know how much sleep you need to keep away from developing the symptoms of daytime fatigue and long term health issues. Few people can maintain 6 hours of sleep or less without developing these issues. However, if for example, you typically receive 7 hours of sleep but you still are sleepy during the day, try adding an hour to your bedtime to see if that does the trick. If you are receiving on average 8 hours of sleep a night and you still have daytime fatigue, the issue may be an underlying physical symptom such as snoring or sleep apnea which rob you of restorative sleep, so you should see a snoring specialist in your area to seek treatment.
The full white-paper from the American Sleep Foundation is available on their website here.
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