How much sleep do I need? It’s a questions you’re rarely asked and yet, by the time we’re adults, we know enough from trial and error to guesstimate how many hours of sleep we need to function throughout the day.
But just like we know very little about the murky depths of our planet’s oceans; we still don’t have all the answers to our murky subconscious, least of all when it’s submerged in sleep.
That being said, for something that we spend approximately one third of our entire lives doing, most people don’t really know how long we’re actually supposed to be doing it.
How much sleep do I need? It depends on age…
The important thing to realize about the act of sleeping is that it isn’t simply a shutdown period where everything turns off and then restarts upon awakening – whilst we relax and drift off into little dream worlds (or nightmare worlds), some very important things are happening, without ‘our’ involvement. And getting the right amount of rest is no different than eating or exercising the right amount.
In early 2015, the National Sleep Foundation organized a panel of experts from all scientific walks of life (from sleep experts, to pediatrics to gynecologists) in order to compile a new recommended list of sleeping hours.
In their final conclusions, they noted that the amount of time we need to sleep greatly depends on age. The younger the body is, the more sleep it will need in order to promote muscle growth and repair. For example, a new born baby may sleep up to 14 – 17 hours a day, whilst a young adult, may sleep for around 7 – 9 hours.
The full report can be found here, if you want the more detailed scoop.
What happens if you don’t get enough sleep?
Unfortunately, there are always very convincing reasons to skimp on sleep – or circumstances may prevent you from getting as much as you’d like; who can truthfully say they haven’t pulled an all-nighter for school or… other reasons?
As everything becomes more fast-paced and work life continues to blend into home life for many people; it can be difficult to give sleep the priority it needs.
The real issue is that it’s difficult to tell the difference between scraping by and getting a full, healthy night’s sleep. What’s the odd late night? You can always catch up at the weekend, right?
The truth is – losing as little as one recommended hour per night (let’s say six hours instead of seven), can drastically alter your mood, your energy levels, your focus and your ability to react to stress. But if you’re already working in a stressful environment, one which takes up so much time that you often work late, how are you supposed to tell that you’re missing something vital from your regime?
Take some time, wherever possible, to really analyze how you’re feeling; if you’re constantly struggling to keep your energy levels up, or concentrate on specific things, it could be a sign that you’re simply not getting enough sleep each night.
If you recognize these symptoms, make a concerted effort to get an early night and some much-needed deep, restful sleep.
According to a piece of research carried out by the University of California, around 97% of the population will operate well below our potential if we’re skating by on six hours of sleep, or less, each night.
What happens if you sleep too much?
We’re often told that we don’t get enough sleep – in fact, I’ve just said that very thing in the previous section – but how often do we really focus on the other side: oversleeping?
Experts recommend a specific amount of hours for a very good reason; too much or too little can have any of the same detrimental symptoms – oversleeping is actually linked to depression and anxiety much more than a lack of sleep.
From the depression angle, many therapists point to a psychological cycle which feeds upon itself: if you oversleep, you may wake up and feel bad for having wasted your morning, and find it difficult to kick-start the day.
As a result, the sleep pattern will shift, and you may find yourself heading to bed later and later each night, and subsequently waking up later and later each morning. All of this can contribute to an emotionally distressed state, and prompt you to spend more time wallowing in bed.
Additionally, some medical conditions (aside from extremes like narcolepsy), such as hypersomnia can cause sufferers to feel incredibly tired throughout a normal day – even if they’ve had their recommended hours – and find they need to nap, or sleep longer than average.
As with most things health related, it all comes down to moderation. Too little can be damaging, just as too much can completely alter your daily schedule.
To answer the original question: how many hours of sleep do we really need? All the evidence points to a recommended 7 to 9 per night for healthy adults, and around 8 to 10 for teenagers.
But really, it comes down to knowing your own health and your own body; studies may suggest 8 hours as the optimum amount, but it takes some personal reflection to make sure you’re getting the right, healthy amount for you.