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So How Much Sleep Do We Need?
If we look deeper into this question the real mystery is what exactly does sleep do for us? The most obvious and quoted need for sleep is to make us not sleepy. An easy rule often expressed is that an individual’s proper sleep amount is that which allows full alert functioning during the waking hours without struggling to stay awake. However, this can be less than clear-cut depending on what tasks are required during the day. A day that requires monotonous highway driving or sitting doing repetitive tasks may make some lack of sleep very apparent versus a day where one is physically active all day.
Other research and hypothesis’s suggest that sleep is important for proper consolidation of memories, learning and emotional stability. In addition, Dr. Nedergaard, a neuroscientist at the University of Rochester, has proposed that during sleep the brain is able to flush out the accumulation of unwanted toxins.
There have been studies that suggest inadequate sleep can contribute to dementia, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease. Studies done in Finland and by the American Cancer Society have implied that getting too little sleep or too much sleep may increase mortality.
The real issue is how much time do we need to spend sleeping to allow an adequate period for the physiologic processes to optimize their tasks? There are formal recommendations from esteemed groups such as the National Sleep foundation. Their most recent pronouncement follows:
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
It is important to understand that when one is defining how much sleep is required this is referring to normal sleep. An individual may think they are sleeping adequate hours but the sleep itself is poor (as can be seen in sleep apnea). Genetics may also alter the amount of sleep required to maximize our health. In fact, admiring the short sleeper for their willingness not to “waste time” in bed, may in essence be encouraging poor health, as if we admired people for smoking.