How Much Sleep Do We Really Need to Stay Healthy?

Research suggests there’s a clear correlation between sleep and optimal health—but the exact relationship may surprise you.

When it comes to the relationship between sleep and health, myths abound; many people assume that our sleep needs correlate directly to our age—with babies needing the most sleep and elderly people needing the least—and that some people have an almost miraculous ability to function on just three to four hours of sleep per night. Likewise, it is believed that sleeping “too much” carries the same (or similar) health risks as sleeping too little.

While it’s true that babies and children need a great deal more sleep than adults, the amount of sleep we need to maintain optimal health remains remarkably stable as we grow older, and in reality, there are very few confirmed cases of adults being able to function properly on just a few hours of sleep. According to most sleep experts, such as Sudhansu Chokroverty, MD, professor and co-chair of neurology and program director for clinical neurophysiology and sleep medicine at the New Jersey Neuroscience Institute, the average adult (including senior adults) needs at least 7.5-8 hours of sleep per night, though “Many people can function with 6 hours’ sleep, and there are also some who need 9 hours or more.” Chokroverty goes on to explain that “The amount of sleep needed to function the next day varies from individual to individual, and is determined genetically and by heredity.

If needing 9 or more hours of sleep is natural to some individuals, why is getting more sleep correlated with health risks?  Many experts believe that the studies which seem to suggest more sleep is bad for the body are inherently biased: Needing much more sleep than usual is often one of the first signs of an underlying illness, meaning that the higher death rates which appear to be associated with excess sleep are likely not due to the sleep involved but rather undetected illness. As such, most physicians recommend that, rather than forcing ourselves to sleep just 8 hours, we listen to our bodies and get as much sleep as is required to feel rested. (However, if your sleep needs are truly far from the norm, i.e. in excess of 10-11 hours per night, it’s best to seek medical attention to rule out any underlying health issues.)

As to those individuals who believe they can maintain optimal health on just 3-4 hours of sleep per night, tests of their motor functioning, short-term memory, and cognitive performance almost always reveal that they are, in fact, impaired by their sleep-debt—they have just gone so long on little sleep that they’ve forgotten what being well-rested actually feels like. Even if they can function each day, says Dr. Kingman Strohl of University Hospitals Case Medical Center, they are opening the doorway to health problems and an increased risk of early mortality. If you sleep less than six hours per night, “You’re subject to certain metabolic problems, such as pre-diabetes; you have more likelihood to have cardiovascular problems and hypertension,” warns Dr. Strohl.

As inconvenient as it may feel to have to stay in bed for 8 or more hours each night, if you wish to live a long and healthy life, it’s necessary—so turn off the television, set aside your smartphone, and give your body the time it needs to recharge and repair itself each night.


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Your partner in health and fitness,

Coach Cindy

I would like to share a personal note, as it relates to this post.  For many years, I only slept 4-5 hours at night, and honestly believed that I was the exception to the rule.  However, my sleep deficit finally caught up with me and I experienced several metabolic problems-uncontrollable food cravings, uncontrollable weight gain, extremely elevated triglyceride levels, and pre-diabetes.  So, if you are only sleeping 4-5 hours and  having the same problems that are mentioned in the post or that I have mentioned above, please get more sleep so that you can improve your overall health.


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