When you’re scrambling to meet the demands of modern life, cutting back on sleep can seem like the only answer. How else are you going to get through your neverending to-do list or make time for a little fun? Sure, a solid eight hours sounds great, but who can afford to spend so much time sleeping? The truth is you can’t afford not to.
Sleep consists of a series of distinct cycles and stages that restore and refresh your body and mind. Even minimal sleep loss takes a toll on your mood, energy, efficiency, and ability to handle stress. If you want to feel your best, stay healthy, and perform up to your potential, sleep is a necessity, not a luxury. Learn what happens when you’re sleeping, how to determine your nightly sleep needs, and what you can do to bounce back from chronic sleep loss and get on a healthy sleep schedule.
Average Sleep Needs:
According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult sleeps less than 7 hours per night. In today’s fast-paced society, 6 or 7 hours of sleep may sound pretty good. In reality, it’s a recipe for chronic sleep deprivation.
While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need even more (see box at right). And despite the notion that sleep needs decrease with age, older people still need at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep. Since older adults often have trouble sleeping this long at night, daytime naps can help fill in the gap.
Sleep needs and peak performance
There is a big difference between the amount of sleep you can get by on and the amount you need to function optimally. Just because you’re able to operate on 7 hours of sleep doesn’t mean you wouldn’t feel a lot better and get more done if you spent an extra hour or two in bed. The best way to figure out if you’re meeting your sleep needs is
to evaluate how you feel as you go about your day. If you’re logging enough hours, you’ll feel energetic and alert all day long, from the moment you wake up until your regular bedtime.
Think six hours of sleep is enough?
Think again. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco discovered that some people have a gene that enables them to do well on 6 hours of sleep a night. But the gene is very rare, appearing in less than 3% of the population. For the other 97% of us, six hours doesn’t come close to cutting it.
Paying off your sleep debt
Sleep debt is the difference between the amount of sleep you need and the hours you actually get. Every time you sacrifice on sleep, you add to the debt. Eventually, the debt will have to be repaid. It won’t go away on its own. If you lose an hour of sleep, you must make up that extra hour somewhere down the line in order to bring your “account” back into balance.
Sleeping in on the weekends isn’t enough!
Many of us try to repay our sleep debt by sleeping in on the weekends. But as it turns out, bouncing back from chronic lack of sleep isn’t that easy. One or two solid nights of sleep aren’t enough to pay off a long-term debt. While extra sleep can give you a temporary boost (for example, you may feel great on Monday morning after a relaxing weekend), your performance and energy will drop back down as the day wears on.