How Much Sleep Do We Actually Need?
You’re watching late night TV and you feel guilty because you know you have to rise and shine for work at 7 am. You tell yourself all you really need is 5 or 6 hours of shut-eye. But is that enough for you to stay alert during morning traffic and a full 8-hour workday?
Taking Energy Drinks and Noon Naps?
The fact is, most of us spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Trying to figure out how much sleep we need hinges on a variety of factors. According to the National Sleep Foundation, there is no ideal number of hours a person needs to sleep. Instead there are only guidelines to help you determine how much sleep you may need. If you consume caffeine or energy drinks to keep you from nodding off at work, you may need to skip the late night TV and go to bed earlier (or get more exercise). The same holds true if you find yourself catching ZZZs during your lunch hour.
Basal Sleep vs. Sleep Debt
Basal Sleep is what you need on a regular basis to “run on all cylinders.” Sleep Debt is the sleep you lose due to poor sleep habits, sickness, or other causes. Studies reveal that most healthy adults need 7 to 8 hours of basal sleep. But if you’ve fallen behind on your sleep due to a late night party or bad cold, you might need to catch up with more sleep to erase your Sleep Debt. A University of Pennsylvania article by Hans Pa Van Dongen, Naomi L Rogers and David F Dinges addresses Basal Sleep and Sleep Debt in almost excruciating detail. The bottom line: Not getting enough sleep (less than 6 hours) can lead to all sorts of problems. For one, your BMI (Body Mass Index) will go up, since sleep deprivation will cause you to eat more. You may even elevate your risk of diabetes and heart problems, as well increase your risk of psychiatric conditions, like depression. Failing to “catch up” on your sleep can affect your ability to focus or recall new information.
The Happy Medium
Surveys of over 1 million adults conducted by the American Cancer Society revealed that people who slept 7 hours fared better healthwise after six years than those who slept more and less. Another group of researchers found that those who slept just 6 hours had reaction times consistent with a blood alcohol level of 0.1 percent. Individuals who only got 4 hours of sleep actually dozed off during their cognitive tests. The takeaway: Those who routinely sleep less than 7 hours may experience cognitive problems; late sleepers (more than 8 hours), may raise their risk of heart disease, obesity and diabetes.