How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

couple sleeping

Eight hours. That’s the nightly sleep recommendation you hear most frequently, the gold standard for a healthy sleep routine. But what if it isn’t? I read this article in The Wall Street Journal with great interest, for it points to recent research that suggests the eight-hour model may not be the ideal one for most healthy adults.

Although eight hours is the number most often associated with a full night’s rest, sleep experts know that there is variation when it comes to individual sleep needs. Most often, recommended sleep time comes as a range of seven to nine hours depending on the individual, an amount the National Sleep Foundation also supports.

A growing body of research now suggests the ideal amount of sleep may be at the low end of that range. A number of studies indicate that seven hours instead of eight may be the most healthful amount of nightly sleep. While sleep experts have yet to reach a consensus, there’s an increasingly compelling case that eight hours may be more sleep than most need.

We hear a lot about the dangers of too little sleep, but sleeping too much might be hazardous to your health as well. Both too little sleep and too much sleep are associated with greater mortality risks, though it’s unclear how much disease that increases the risk of death also changes a person’s sleeping habits. It may be that those who are sick just don’t sleep as well. This makes it challenging to determine just how much of the health risks are a result of sleep. That’s why understanding as much as we can about the overall “best” amount of sleep has real importance.

The National Sleep Foundation is currently at work examining and analyzing sleep data in preparation to release new guidelines for sleep. The Centers for Disease Control has also funded a panel to explore all manner of issues related to sleep, in part aimed at updating recommendations for healthy sleep amounts. Both are expected to release their recommendations in 2015.

Those guidelines are important for medical professionals and the general public, but the right amount of sleep is always going to be a personal decision. Your body and mind give you the information you need to determine how much sleep to get. Pay attention to how much and how well you’re sleeping at night and also pay attention to how you feel during the day. A sufficient night of sleep should leave you feeling alert and energized throughout the bulk of the day, and ready for bed at roughly the same time every night.

In order to read your body’s need for sleep, it’s important to practice good sleep hygiene. That includes going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, making sure your room is a dark, cool and comfortable place to sleep and having quiet time away from bright light and electronics in the hour before you go to bed. Give yourself ample time for sleep and create a sleep-friendly environment and routine.