How much sleep do we really need?

It’s a topic that most regard casually. “Ha, ha! Only slept for 6 hours last night!” another person says, “You got 6? I barely got 4!” etc., etc. It’s almost seen as a badge of honor; as if the more we get done on the fewest hours of sleep proclaims us the “winner”.

Although most people believe they can get by on less sleep than most, The National Sleep Institute reports that our need for sleep as adults is 7-9 hours on average. This means that there are a small percentage of us who need less AND a small percentage of us who need MORE! The institute also reports that up to 90% of all accidents occur because of sleep deprivation. Additionally, how much sleep you get is one of the top determinates of your life expectancy.

What’s the big deal about sleep anyway? Let’s break it down.

Sleep Deprivation causes increased levels of cortisol production, decreased human growth hormone activity and decreased glycogen synthesis.

What does that mean?

Symptoms of elevated cortisol levels include: Depression, Fatigue, Weight gain, especially in the face, upper back (“buffalo hump”), and torso, Obesity, especially abdominal obesity/central obesity, Back pain, Thin skin, Decreased concentration, Swelling in the hands and feet, Low libido, Acne, Impaired memory (especially short-term), Female facial hair or female balding, Insomnia, Poor skin healing, Irritability, Menstrual abnormalities, Blood sugar dysregulation/high blood sugar, Decreased bone mineral density, High blood pressure, Easy bruising, Muscle wasting and weakness of arms and legs, Reddish purple streaks on skin. That’s all.

Decreases in human growth hormone (HGH) activity cause a reduced sense of wellbeing, increased fat, increased risk of heart disease and weak heart, muscles and bones. 

Effects of Decreased Glycogen Synthesis: Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., from the University of Chicago Medical School, studied the effects of three different durations of sleep in eleven men aged 18 to 27. Van Cauter said that after only one week of sleep restriction, young, healthy males had glucose levels that were no longer normal and showed a rapid deterioration of the body’s functions.

This reduced ability of the body to manage glucose is similar to those found in the elderly. This finding is an explanation for inability to gain or lose weight, perform athletic or daily activities and an overall feeling of low energy in individuals.

So, what do we do?

First of all, understand that you probably need 7-9 hours of sleep/night…plan your life accordingly! Stop drinking coffee altogether or after lunch. Record your favorite show to watch when you have more free time, create a “sleep-friendly” space (no media, noise, light, etc.), and create “going to sleep” rituals: hot tub, herbal tea, gentle yoga, etc. Make a decision to go to bed at a specific time. Stick to it!

If you don’t know or believe how much sleep you need, try this technique: go somewhere you can completely cut off noise and light. (I like a fancy hotel…) Allow yourself 3 days for this experiment and unlimited time to sleep. Shut off the phone, block the light and completely disconnect. The first night, you will probably sleep an inordinate amount. The second night you will most likely sleep longer than you think you should/could. On the third night, you will wake up after your perfect amount of sleep…this is what you need every night! I love it! A sleep vacation that will help you put this important part of life back on track.

It’s important to have a good “sleep routine”. Go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time. We really CAN’T make up for lost sleep on the weekend, even though most people think they can.

Missed sleep takes time off the end of the life…years, not hours. If that’s important to you, start making your sleep a priority.

Jake and I recommend a 10-day jump start to a healthier life and getting enough sleep is one of the tenets. There are several other components to the program which I will write about in future blogs. The really cool thing is that we also have some tools to support us in developing healthier habits including plant concentrates and oils.

So, do yourself, your family and community a favor and get some sleep!

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