Should you try to get 8 hours a night? How much sleep you really need

When you think of health, you usually think of proper nutrition or an efficient exercise routine. The truth is, sleep is one of the most beneficial things you can use to improve your overall well-being. Most people assume that eight hours is the optimal amount of sleep to get each night, as it is a number often cited through media, books, and other sources. But, is that all there is to it? Is there a best time to sleep and wake up? Does the quality of the sleep itself matter? It is time to debunk some myths around sleep and the amount you should get. Before you lie down, take a look at a few key points.

What are the key benefits of sleep?

Woman sleeping in bed
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Have you ever thought about all the things you could accomplish if you didn’t have to sleep? Your to-do list would definitely be shorter if you could gain back those extra hours! But sleep plays a vital role in your function and health. For one thing, your brain and body need time to recharge. Just like your phone, your body can run out of power, leaving you exhausted and drained. This reboot allows your body to fight off illness, absorb nutrients, and recover from exertion.

Likewise, your brain and all the neurons firing away need time to recalibrate and cope with all the information received over the course of your day. Sleep supports learning and memory, and also supports your brain in removing unnecessary information. Emotionally, sleep helps you stabilize and process any feelings you may be struggling to resolve. Indeed, it is possible to die from lack of sleep, although such an occurrence is rare. Even so, sleep is confirmed as a mandatory need for life.

Are there risks to sleeping less than 8 hours each night?

So, what if you are deprived of the precious sleep your body so craves? The answer lies in the frequency of that deprivation. If you pull the rare all-nighter, you will likely need to recover the next day but will ultimately be alright. However, consistently losing sleep on a nightly basis could extend to larger problems. Poor sleep is known to shorten life expectancy as well as make you more susceptible to a number of maladies. Some of those unpleasant possibilities could include heart disease and diabetes. You also put your mind at risk by inducing bouts of irrationality or even impulsive euphoria. Ideally, a good sleep schedule would place you in bed a couple of hours after dark.

So then, what is the best time to wake up? When possible, the answer is actually within the earlier hours of sunlight in the morning. If you’ve ever heard the expression, “early to bed and early to rise,” this logic is applied soundly to a majority recommendation. Generally, in terms of quantity, you do not have to sleep eight hours every night. However, for most adults the guideline falls between 6.5-8 hours as an acceptable amount. So if your target is eight hours, you’re doing great.

Does the quality of my sleep matter?

Man sleeping in bed
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Interestingly, sleep quality may have an even greater impact on your health than sleep quantity. Good sleep is usually initiated when you fall asleep in 30 minutes or less, after which you would ideally not wake more than once. If you do wake up in the night, it is good to fall asleep within 20 minutes of that interruption. The goal is to spend as much time as possible in the deepest state of sleep, also commonly referred to as REM sleep.

If you sleep for seven hours you would hopefully go through three to five REM cycles, each lasting 15-20 minutes or so. The optimal total amount of REM sleep for an adult would be about 90 minutes each night. This deepest level of slumber is by far the most restorative and beneficial to both brain and body. If you have trouble attaining this type of deep sleep, try using white noise, meditation, or any other number of aids to improve your restful time.

Sleep is something that is undervalued and under adopted by many. If you experience regular dips in your energy, mental clarity, or general well-being, a lack of sleep could be the culprit. Don’t fight it or willfully deprive yourself of it. Try to adapt a schedule that will maximize the time you spend resting. Understand that sleep is a vital part of your body’s biological needs. The recommended amount of sleep for adults lies in the range of 6.5-8 hours each night. The deeper the sleep, the better restoration your body will experience. So feel free to hit the snooze button.

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