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How much sleep do we really need?

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Posted: 13/01/2020
Category: blog
Comments: 0

It’s hard to get enough sleep with increasing working hours, pressures to maintain a social life, electronic devices and the anxieties and stresses of the day racing through our heads. The NHS says that one in 3 of us suffers from poor sleep, and the cost of all those sleepless nights is more than just bad moods and a lack of focus as “regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes – and it shortens your life expectancy”.

It’s common knowledge that most of us need around 8 hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly, but what we often don’t take into consideration is that some of us need more and some less, dependent on factors such as age, activity levels and more. There are many benefits to getting a good night sleep, and the NHS explains that it can boost our immunity, our well being, can increase our sex drive and also improve our fertility.

Sleeping well can also help to keep you slim, as studies have shown that “people who sleep less than 7 hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get 7 hours of slumber. It's believed to be because sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone)”.

To be controversial, in an article published in the New Scientist, Jerome Siegel who studies sleep at the University of California, Los Angeles, argued that the 8 hour rule has no basis in our evolutionary past – his study of tribal cultures with no access to electricity found that they get just 6 or 7 hours.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, these are the sleep ranges on average needed at different ages:

• Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range 14-17 hours each day
• Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range 12-15 hours
• Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range 11-14 hours
• Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range 10-13 hours
• School age children (6-13): Sleep range 9-11 hours
• Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range 8-10 hours
• Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range 7-9 hours
• Adults (26-64): Sleep range 7-9 hours
• Older adults (65+): Sleep range 7-8 hours

Though research cannot pinpoint an exact amount of sleep need by people at different ages, it acts as a recommendation. However, the National Sleep Foundation adds that it's important to pay attention to your own individual needs by assessing how you feel on different amounts of sleep.

Ask yourselves these questions to determine whether you need more or less sleep:

• Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear?
• Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease?
• Are you experiencing sleep problems? Such as narcolepsy or insomnia.
• Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
• Do you feel sleepy when driving?

If you are unsure, it’s best to seek medical help, but as a general rule the NHS says that if you don't get enough sleep, there's only one way to compensate…by getting more sleep.

They say that “if you've had months of restricted sleep, you'll have built up a significant sleep debt, so expect recovery to take several weeks. Starting on a weekend, try to add on an extra hour or 2 of sleep a night. The way to do this is to go to bed when you're tired, and allow your body to wake you in the morning (no alarm clocks allowed!).

“Expect to sleep for upwards of 10 hours a night at first. After a while, the amount of time you sleep will gradually decrease to a normal level. Don't rely on caffeine or energy drinks as a short-term pick-me-up. They may boost your energy and concentration temporarily, but can disrupt your sleep patterns even further in the long term.”

For a good night’s sleep try to stick to sleeping at regular times and make sure you “wind down” by turning off electronics before bed or by having a bath. Lastly, the NHS adds that we should keep the bedroom “just for sleep and sex (or masturbation). Unlike most vigorous physical activity, sex makes us sleepy. This has evolved in humans over thousands of years”.

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