A Patient Asks: “How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?”

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According to Matthew Walker, PhD, author of Why We Sleep, the answer is that everyone needs 8 hours of sleep per night.

Even just ten days of mild sleep deprivation is all it takes to become as impaired in performance as going without sleep for twenty-four hours straight. But even more concerning was that in studies of partial sleep deprivation “when participants were asked about their subjective sense of how impaired they were, they consistently underestimated their degree of performance disability.” Alarmingly, “with chronic sleep restriction over months or years, an individual will actually acclimate to their impaired performance, lower alertness, and reduce energy levels” and think how they feel is normal. As a result, we know “based on epidemiological studies of average sleep time, [that] millions of individuals unwittingly spend years of their life in a sub-optimal state of psychological and physiological functioning, never maximizing their potential of mind or body due to their blind persistence in sleeping too little.”

He goes on to write that “after thirty years of intensive research, we can now [state that] the recycle rate of a human being is around sixteen hours. After sixteen hours of being awake, the brain begins to fail. Humans need more than seven hours of sleep each night to maintain cognitive performance. After ten days of just seven hours of sleep, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.”

We are without a doubt a chronically sleep-deprived society. So ask yourself: are you getting the right amount of sleep? If the answer is no, you might want to think how you can restructure your life to make sure that you do.

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  • This is so powerful. So many of us are living in this “sub-optimal state functioning.” Over time, this state of being becomes your norm, leaving you unable to recognize the possibility of reaching a higher baseline of functioning. Thank you for sharing!

    • My refuses to sleep more than 5-6 hours per night. During that time I sleep well but I cannot extend it.

  • So what are the elderly meant to do? The number of hours easily obtained decreases markedly through life from infancy, through childhood, adolescence, adulthood to old age.

    Janene: It can be quite challenging for some elderly people to obtain adequate sleep. There are many non-pharmacological and pharmacological tools available, though.

    Alex