Written by Mr Lee Alan Donaldson BSc
We should all know by now that the recommended hours of sleep per day for the average adult is somewhere between 6-8 hours per night, but did you know that this recommendation is not always as accurate and beneficial to your body as it may be suggested?
Similarly the physical and mental activities that are present in your day to day lives can also significantly affect the amount you require day to day. So the question is, are you getting enough sleep or too much sleep?
What works best for you? Should you follow any recommended guidelines?
One of the unhealthiest habits you may hear is how some people brag about how little sleep they get. While it is admirable that a person is willing to put their body and mind through a 48-hour work marathon, it is outright foolish because working sleepless yields diminishing returns, and the more you diminish yourself the worse off your overall health will become especially later on in life. Successful people in particular athletes make it their top priority to get a full night’s rest. People who consistently burn the midnight oil inevitably burnout. Furthermore, overworked and unrested individuals tend to be less productive than their peers in sports, work and in life generally.
You may have seen or read that some athletes such as Mike O’Hearn and the Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson get their workouts in at 4-5am and this can provoke questions such as how are they getting enough sleep? Are they taking power naps during the day? And can I do this too? The simple answer is yes, you can, however you have to condition yourself and learn what works best for you, remember these two athletes are mature, conditioned and maintaining their physiques and fitness is their full-time profession. They both have incredible time and sleep management protocols to train and live their lifestyle in this manner and neither agrees or disagrees with their approach.
According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, the consequences of sleep deprivation are arguably disastrous to your health and work performance. “In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgement, mood, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality. (1)
In terms of health, fitness and well-being the goal is to improve and maintain these factors and just about any health professional out there will discourage the abuse of alcohol, drugs and diet binging the same applies for sleep neglect and abuse. You cannot assume that a good diet and training regime will allow you to cheat on your body with lack of rest or sleep binging, consistency with all is the key.
Are you as well rested as you think based upon the recommended guidelines?
A study, described on the Neurology Reviews site in 2009, aimed to determine performance and perception during sleep deprivation. Researchers tested 23 sleep-deprived people on a series of cognitive tests, quantitative (math) and perceptual (image matching). Then they asked participants to gauge their performance and confidence. (2)
The researchers found on perceptual tasks, performance declined with sleep deprivation. Participants significantly overestimated their performance and confidence. Performance did not significantly suffer over time on the quantitative tests, but sleep-deprived people still consistently overestimated their achievement.
An earlier study, published in 2004 by University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine researchers, also highlighted this phenomenon. Over 14 days, they tested groups of people who received either four, six or eight hours of sleep on several tasks. They found that cognitive performance continuously declined for the four- and six-hour groups, depending on the amount of sleep. (3)
Even for the six-hour group, the cognitive deficits were equivalent to two nights of complete sleep deprivation. Researchers also found that participants underrated sleepiness and were largely unaware of increasing cognitive impairments.
Essentially, the mind and body appear to get used to the new baseline of chronic tiredness. This leads to underestimating potential changes in attention, performance and behaviours. So people who have been scraping by on a few hours of sleep a night might not be in as good as shape as they would like to believe.
So what does all this mean? Well, based upon these findings, just how much sleep do you really need? Again, it is still not fully conclusive, however further research has attempted to answer this question.
The National Sleep Foundation conducted an in-depth review of sleep research to revise its guidelines. During this analysis, the panel of medical and sleep experts formally reviewed more than 300 articles published in peer-reviewed journals. (4)
Based on this research, the foundation developed the following sleep guidelines for adults:
✓ Young adults (18 to 25), seven to nine hours;
✓ Adults (26 to 64), seven to nine hours;
✓ Older adults (65 and older), seven to eight hours.
The new guidelines established in 2015 suggested that six hours of sleep may be appropriate for some adults, as can as much as 10 to 11 hours depending on individual differences. But the majority of people will fall within the ‘recommended’ range. Despite those who still claim to be just fine with sleeping only a few hours, researchers estimate that this is rarely true and likely to be the case only for about 1 percent to 3 percent of the population. (5)
The guidelines also specified recommended sleep ranges for children: 14 to 17 hours for infants and eight to 10 hours for teenagers.
In conclusion it is recommended to increase your sleep time if you have been subsisting on six or few hours of sleep per night, after a one to two week period, see if you notice any improvements in your daytime and during your physical activities performance. If you’re already getting seven or eight hours a night on average but you are not feeling optimal (whether you exercise or not), then nine or even 10 hours might be what your body needs. However remember one thing these are just guidelines and your day to day lifestyles can differ as well as changes in age, location, profession and responsibilities. So constantly juggle around and assess what works for you and what doesn’t and then change it.
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