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Understanding Your Sleep Need

Going to bed at night is often viewed by our 24-hour society as something we do once we have finished all the day’s activities, instead of making sleep a priority and setting a strict bedtime to ensure we start the next day well rested and ready to take on life’s challenges. Think of sleep deprivation as taking money from the bank, eventually you need to pay it back. And the “sleep debt” will accumulate over time. Sleep research has found that getting even 30 minutes less of sleep per night can lead to an accumulation of sleep debt, gradually leading to increasing daytime sleepiness, irritability and other consequences. Our trade mark motto at the Ohio Sleep Medicine Institute is "A good night's sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity".

The amount of sleep required by any individual varies according to your age and other individual or genetic characteristics. Sleep need can vary considerably from one individual to the other, so you should not compare yourself to others around you. However, by paying close attention to what your body needs you can evaluate the necessary amount required for performing at your best. Some of us need 7 hours of sleep or less, while others function better with 9 hours of sleep or more. A recent study1 investigating a genetic mutation allowing people to sleep less than others concludes that genetic predisposition can be a determining factor in how much sleep we need.

Sleep need and sleep deprivation
The most important aspect in managing your sleep need2 is to differentiate between your basal sleep need – the amount of sleep needed for optimal performance- and your sleep debt – the accumulated sleep loss due to inadequate sleep habits or fragmented sleep caused by sleep disorders, sickness or other environmental factors. Sleep deprivation can lead to decreased productivity, cognitive impairment and inability to pay attention, act quickly and remember new information. Therefore, it is crucial to make up for any sleep debt so you can be as alert as you should be and to maximize performance and your sense of well being. In addition, sleep deprivation can lead to serious health consequences. Shorter sleep duration (five hours or less) is linked to increased risks of heart problems and diabetes, increased weight gain, as well as increased risk for depression and substance abuse. A recent survey conducted at six year intervals by the American Cancer Society indicates that people who slept seven hours had a lower mortality risk than those sleeping considerably more or less.

Sleep need and your age
Children six years old and older typically require ten hours of sleep, while teenagers need at least nine hours, even though they tend to average less than 8 hours per night. Indeed, teenagers typically require more sleep than the slightly younger preteen age group. It is important to remember that growth hormone is released during sleep, likely contributing to the increased need for sleep during a teenager’s growth spurt. As they grow, it is crucial to respect the body’s need for sleep to allow adequate time for appropriate growth and development. Both children and adolescents should be in bed at a reasonable time, especially if school starts early. Night owl activities such as playing on the computer or chatting with friends should be discouraged.

On the other hand, older adults (sixty five or more) tend to have more fragmented sleep. Their sleep is not as consolidated as younger adults. They spend less time in deep, restorative sleep and can wake up more easily. As a consequence, they may nap during the day to make up for shorter total sleep time experienced at night. One risk is to create a vicious circle with too much sleep during the day which may exacerbate insomnia at night, further leading to increased tiredness during the day and more frequent naps to make up for the lack of nocturnal restful sleep.

Adults with a demanding work schedule and a busy lifestyle should pay close attention to the way they manage their sleep. They must learn to prioritize their sleep so they can be efficient and productive during the day. They need to learn to manage daytime stress so it does not interfere with their night-time sleep, which consequently may impact their mood, energy, and health.

Making sleep a priority
Whatever age group you fall into, you need to make sleep a priority. A good night’s sleep is not a luxury, it is a necessity™. Just as you schedule various activities during the waking hours, you need to schedule a specific time for your body to rest and sleep. Sleeping should be part of your “to do” list, not an afterthought once everything else has been accomplished on your list. Start prioritizing your sleep need now to preserve your physical and mental health and boost your energy and ability to face the many demands life brings on.

1. The Transcriptional Repressor DEC2 Regulates Sleep Length in Mammals (Ying-Hui Fu, Christopher R. Jones, & Seiji Nishino, August 14, 2009), Science. Vol. 325. no. 5942, pp. 866 – 870.

2. “How much sleep do we really need?” (National Sleep Foundation, 2006). Sleepmatters, Volume 8, issue 4.

Sleep needs in a nutshell

Newborns (1-2 months) 10.5-18 hours
Infants (3-11 months) 9-12 hours at night + 30 min. to 2 hour naps, one to four times a day
Toddlers (1-3 years) 12-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years) 11-13 hours
School-aged children (5-12 years) 10-11 hours
Teenagers (11-17) 8.5- 9.25 hours
Adults 7-9 hours
Older adults 7-9 hours

sleep need, sleep deprivation


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