Sunday, June 20, 2010

I Can’t Sleep Eight (8) Hours – How Much Sleep Do I Really Need?

I’ve often asked myself that very question. If you have children and work many parents can't sleep due to all the added stress in life just trying to pay the bills, getting the children to and from their daily activities and dealing with aging parents. Their sleep isn’t a priority because families have busy schedules and trying to get the children their right amount of sleep is more important than their own. So how much sleep do you really need? Health organizations have their theory on how long on average, but as you know we are all are individuals and each person’s adequate sleep requirement depends on many internal and external factors. There is no ‘magic number’ as different age groups need different amounts of sleep and other innate characteristics determine the amount of sleep YOU need to function on a daily basis. What is right for you could be totally different than for someone else that is the same gender and age.

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In 2005 a study explored the facts that sleep requirements vary across populations identifying traits within genes that may provide a ‘map’ on how to clarify individual sleep needs. Researchers have concluded that there are two different factors when it comes to every individual, their basal sleep need which is the amount of sleep our body needs to reenergize and sleep debt, the amount of sleep lost from emotional, environmental and medical causes.

Studies have shown on average that a healthy adult should get between seven and eight hours of sleep every night, but things get confusing when there’s an interaction between a person’s basal need and sleep debt. For example, you may get your basal sleep need on a single night or a few nights, but you have unsettled sleep debt that causes you to be restless and drowsy during the day especially during your circadian dips which are times in your 24-hour sleep/wake cycle when you are programmed biologically to be more sleepy, such as during the night or mid-afternoon. Some researchers feel you can work down or pay off you accumulated sleep debt and get your sleep/wake cycle back on track. One thing studies have shown is little basal sleep can cause health issues if not dealt with and has been linked to accidents with heavy machinery, obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, depression, adult ADD (attention-deficit disorder) and even death.

In retrospect, sleeping longer periods (nine hours or more) is associated with morbidity, depression, low socioeconomic status and mortality. Studies have shown the relationship as a U-shaped curve that too little and too much sleep can put you at risk. In fact, those with low socioeconomic status sleep longer due to an undiagnosed illness due to lack or poor medical care. There has not been enough definitive testing to form a conclusion that too much sleep is linked to health problems or mortality as shown in evidence supporting negative physiological and neurobehavioral consequences with those sleeping only four to five hours a night.

How much is too much or too little? The American Cancer Society conducted a survey on over 1 million adults and found that those who slept seven hours lived longer after a six year period than those that slept more or less. Some sleep experts recommend that restricting sleep to at least eight hours would be healthier, just like restricting calories in a more sedentary society.

Let’s look at an example of a typical family and determine their sleeping habits and behaviors during the day. Teenagers are more energetic and find it hard to go to bed at a decent hour, but also find it hard to get up in the morning when the alarm goes off at 6am. More often than not, in the morning they are short-tempered, tired and generally unhappy, not to mention they find it difficult to stay awake during school. A teenager’s circadian rhythms are geared to staying up later and waking up later, so their daily activities don’t fit their sleep/wake cycle. The facts point to adolescents needing not less but more sleep than adults, at least nine hours a night.

Sleep specialist also concur that younger children need much more sleep than teenagers or adults. Preschoolers need 11-13 hours of sleep and children 6-12 need 10-11 hours. In fact, if you have a preschooler who hates naps or doesn’t get one due to family schedules they will develop behavioral issues due to being shortchanged on sleep.

As a mother and career women there is a lot to due to spend quality time with family and by the end of the day your usually keyed-up or trying to get some ‘me’ time in, therefore you stay up longer. Women sleep habits change as they go through pregnancy and then again through menopause with many issues and sleep challenges. Your husband who may be working more to pay the bills could be suffering from insomnia due to stress. Many insomniacs lose interest in family life and also lose interest in controlling their weight. The less someone sleeps the more likely they will eat. Studies have shown a link between obesity and sleep deprivation which can lead to other health issues such as sleep apnea, hypertension, heart attack, diabetes or stroke. Adults that suffer from stress issues find it hard to turn off their minds as they lay down to go to sleep at night, therefore find it hard to get the sleep they need for a quality life.

For those with aging parents that have health issues, the required amount of sleep is different than when they were younger. The elderly tend to spend less time asleep and are easily awakened therefore many older adults (over 65) divide their sleep, which should be slightly more, between daytime naps and nighttime sleep. Napping though may be the reason it is difficult for them to go to sleep and stay asleep at night. Also, lack of exercise and medications can play a part in how an older person may be deprived of sleep and wanting to nap during the day. If you have an older parent with a sleeping problem it is best advised to seek a physician’s care.

Sleep needs vary with age and are especially influenced by lifestyle and health. In order to determine how much sleep you need look at the big picture, it is not only important to assess the right amount of sleep you need for your age, but also examine what lifestyle factors are affecting the quality and quality of sleep you are getting.

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How much sleep is determined on how you feel with different amounts of sleep. Are you healthy, happy and productive on seven hours? Do you feel sluggish or depressed if you get more than nine hours? Are you over weight or have health issues? Do you have sleep problems such as narcolepsy, RLS (restless leg syndrome or sleep apnea? Do you want to nap during the day? Do you fight falling asleep at work? These are some questions you can ask yourself to determine the right number that works for you.

Ask yourself, “How often do I get a good night’s sleep”. If the answer is “not often” then consider making some lifestyle changes. The experts have recommended the following tips to help you sleep easy; establish a nightly routine, keep and stick to a sleep/wake schedule, create a comfortable and sleep-conductive environment, avoid electronics in the bedroom, eat at least 2-3 hours before retiring, exercise regularly and avoid caffeine or alcohol before bedtime.

If you or any family member is experiencing symptoms such as narcolepsy, extreme snoring, leg cramps, difficulty breathing or periods where you stop breathing during the night, prolonged insomnia or any other reason you are not sleeping well you should contact your doctor as he will recommend alternate solutions or a sleep specialist to determine the cause. If you keep a sleep diary to keep track of your sleep habits it will help the doctor with his diagnosis.

Most importantly we want you to make your sleep a priority. We know your daily life is busy and you need to get all your item’s crossed off your to-do-list. Remember YOU are the one that needs sleep in order to get everything done. What would everyone do if you became ill because of sleep deprivation? Doesn’t it make sense to make a commitment to get the sleep you need?

The information in this article is not intended to provide personal medical advice, which should be obtained from a medical professional.
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