How much sleep do we really need?

How much sleep do we really need?

By Contributor

If you struggle to sleep, read on to find out how much sleep you need and what you can do to get a better night’s sleep …

The sleep we need

If you think eight hours of shut-eye is the ideal for everyone, think again. The required amount of sleep per day changes with age and studies indicate the following recommended sleep durations:

  • Newborns: 16 to 18 hours a day
  • Preschool-aged children: 11 to 12 hours a day
  • School-aged children: at least 10 hours a day
  • Teens: Nine to 10 hours a day
  • Adults (age 20-64): Seven to nine hours a day
  • Elderly (age 65 and over): Seven to eight hours a day

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep?

"Unfortunately, as you well know, sometimes life can prevent us from going to bed when we want to and many of us have experienced the frustration of not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep once we are in bed," says Dr. Barasch, Medical Director of The Valley Hospital Center for Sleep Medicine in Ridgewood, NJ. "Luckily, our bodies can adjust to occasional instances when we do not get enough sleep."

But what happens when we are consistently not getting enough sleep?

According to Dr. Barasch, sleep deprivation can impact the brain and every organ in the body. During sleep, a newly discovered network of water channels in the brain, called the glymphatic system, becomes active and functions as a waste disposal system, carrying toxins away which would otherwise accumulate and damage brain cells. The accumulation of one of those toxins, amyloid-beta, is associated with Alzheimer's disease.

Dr. Barasch warns that those who suffer from chronic sleep deprivation, regardless of the reason, can experience adverse effects in many aspects of their lives. The lack of crucial restorative sleep can lead to:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Deterioration in work or school productivity
  • Impaired creativity and decision making

Lack of sleep linked to accidents and weight gain

Losing two hours of sleep is similar to the effect of alcohol intoxication. Sleep deprivation is also involved in many automobile, truck and airplane crashes.

Lack of sleep also promotes weight gain and may lead to long-term health consequences, such as depression, diabetes, hypertension, gastrointestinal disorders and colon cancer.

How to get a better night’s sleep

So what do you do if you struggle to sleep?

If you are having difficulty sleeping, the National Institute of Health suggests incorporating some of the following strategies into your evening routine:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Try to keep the same sleep schedule on week nights and weekends.
  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time.
  • Avoid heavy and/or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime.
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks, nicotine and caffeine before bed.
  • Spend time outside every day (when possible) and be physically active.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool and dark (a dim night light is fine, if needed).
  • Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.

If you regularly experience daytime drowsiness, fatigue or disturbed sleep, consider consulting a sleep medicine specialist to evaluate and treat the problem.

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