Insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
There is a big difference between the amount of sleep you can get by on and the amount you need to function optimally. Just because you’re able to operate on six and a half hours of sleep doesn’t mean you wouldn’t feel a lot better and get more done if you spent an extra hour or two in bed.
How much do I need?
The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person.
General guidelines are:
Infants – 14 to 15 hours
Teens – 8.5 to 9.5 hours
Adults – 7 to 9 hours
Women in the first 3 months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual.
Sleep needs also vary from season to season. Most people need an hour more sleep in the winter than they do in the summer. (Note: People who get adequate sleep in the winter have less trouble with allergies in the spring.)
The best way to figure out if you’re meeting your sleep needs is to evaluate how you feel as you go about your day. If you’re getting enough sleep you’ll feel energetic and alert all day long from the moment you wake up until your regular bedtime.
9 Good Reasons to Get More Sleep
- Stronger immunity. When you’re sleep deprived, you often feel “worn down.” Your weakened immune system is it less able to fight off colds, flu, and other infections.
- Better memory. While we sleep, our brains process and consolidate our memories from the day. If you don’t get enough sleep those memories might not get stored correctly and can be lost. In addition to consolidating memories, or making them stronger, your brain appears to reorganize and restructure them. Researchers at Harvard University and Boston College found that people seem to strengthen the emotional components of a memory during sleep, which may help spur the creative process.
- Clearer thinking. Have you ever woken up after a bad night’s sleep, feeling fuzzy and easily confused, like your brain can’t get out of first gear? Sleep loss affects how you think; it impairs your cognition, your attention, and your decision-making.
- Lower risk of injury. Sleep deprivation has been linked with many notorious disasters, like the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger and the grounding of the Exxon Valdez. The Institute of Medicine estimates that one out of five auto accidents in the U.S. results from drowsy driving; that’s about 1 million crashes a year. Of course, any kind of accident is more likely when you’re exhausted. When you’re overtired, you’re more likely to trip, or fall off a ladder, or cut yourself while chopping vegetables.
- Better weight control. Why? Part of the problem is behavioral. If you’re overtired, you’re less likely to have the energy to go for that jog or cook a healthy dinner after work. The other part is physiological. The hormone leptin plays a key role in making you feel full. When you don’t get enough sleep, leptin levels drop. So people who are tired are just plain hungrier, and they seem to crave high-fat and high-calorie foods.
- Better mood. Getting enough sleep won’t guarantee a sunny disposition; but you have probably noticed that when you’re tired you’re more likely to be irritable, short-tempered, and vulnerable to stress.
- Less pain. If you have chronic pain or acute pain from a recent injury, getting enough sleep may actually make you hurt less. Many studies have shown a link between sleep loss and lower pain threshold.
- Better health. Study after study has shown a link between insufficient sleep and some serious health problems such as heart disease, heart attacks, diabetes, and obesity.
- Better sex life. According to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, up to 26% of people say that their sex lives tend to suffer because they’re just too tired. Of course, not getting enough sleep can affect your love life in less direct ways too. If you’re so exhausted you’re falling asleep during a date at the movies, that might end the relationship.