Everyone talks about the importance of getting enough sleep and how a lack of sleep can affect your health and even cause weight gain. There’s no doubt that sleep is important, but how much do you really need for good health?
The Risks of Getting Too Little Sleep
Much research has focused on the health effects of too little sleep. Studies show that health problems such as heart disease, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes are more common in people who sleep less than 6 hours a night. When time spent sleeping is even less, the risk of heart disease goes up proportionally according to one small study. So 6 hours of sleep is bad, but getting 5 or less is even worse when it comes to your health.
Can You Get Too Much Sleep?
Spending too much time in dreamland won’t work in your favor either. According to the Nurse’s Health Study, sleeping more than 9 hours a night is associated with a greater risk of heart disease. Other studies link sleeping greater than 9 hours a night with a 50% higher risk of type 2 diabetes, a greater risk of obesity and a higher mortality rate. So sleeping too much can work against you too.
Is There an Optimal Amount of Sleep?
There may be genetic differences in how much sleep a person needs. The optimal amount of sleep also varies with a person’s age. Children and teens need more sleep to stay healthy because they’re actively growing. Elderly people require less. But if you look at the majority of research, it suggests that 7 to 8 hours sleep a night is probably most conducive to health.
Sleep quality matters too. If you toss and turn most of the night, you may be at an increased risk for health problems even if you do stay in bed for 8 hours. Poor sleep quality can be a symptom of a common medical condition that increases the risk of health problems called sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea stop breathing for short periods during the night. Sleep apnea increases the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and dementia. That’s why it’s a good idea to see your doctor if you have problems sleeping at night. Many people don’t even realize they have this dangerous condition.
The average adult probably needs about 7 to 8 hours of sleep to minimize the risk of health problems and function at peak levels. Lack of sleep can affect mental function too by altering levels of hormones and neurotransmitters that affect brain function. Your brain needs down time too. Too much sleep can make you feel groggy and mentally slow.
The Bottom Line?
If you’re not getting between 7 and 8 hours sleep, make sleep a priority. If sleep quality is a problem, see your doctor to make sure you’re not suffering from sleep apnea or another sleep disorder that makes it hard for you to get the rest you need. Keep a sleep diary for a few weeks, recording how long you slept, the quality of your sleep and how well you functioned the next day. This will give you an idea of how much sleep you need to feel your best. Whatever you do, don’t skimp on sleep.
The University of Chicago Medical Center. “Skipping sleep may signal problems for coronary arteries”
WebMD. “Are You Sleeping Enough — or Too Much?”
Nature 403, 655-657 (10 February 2000) | doi:10.1038/35001068; Received 27 September 1999.