It’s a simple rule we’ve been toldsince we were kids: get lots of sleep so you can grow tall, strong, and healthy. But it begs the question: How much sleep is enough sleep?
The experts at the National Sleep Foundation reviewed over 300 research studies and deduced that the ideal sleep duration varies according to age.
Children need long hours of sleep (8 to 14 hours for 1 to 17-year-olds) while adults can function with less (7 to 9 hours for 18 years and older). Sleep promotes cellular growth and development, which are necessary during our growing-up years. As we grow older, our body’s need for sleep peters out. Its role in our physical and mental health, however, is just as critical. Sleep is essential for cellular regeneration, proper brain function, and mental health. Another extensive study that spanned 22 years also suggests a similar range, that seven to eight hours is the ideal sleep duration.
So, are you sleeping enough every night?
If Only We Could Turn Back Time
It used to irritate me that I had to take a nap in the afternoon when all I wanted to do was play or watch television. There were days I wished I were an independent adult who could take a siesta only when I wanted to.
Fast forward to today — I’m now 29 years old. I’m grown and renting a room in Manila (my family home is in the province) and I still can’t take a nap whenever I like. The tables have turned, however, because I’m now getting way less sleep. My parents, aunts, uncles, and yaya were right: I needed sleep as a child. I certainly need more of it now as a working adult.
Work Overtakes Sleep, and I’m Feeling the Effects
My ideal day would be to wake up at 7:00 AM at the latest, prepare for work, and be at the office by 9:00 AM. Work ends at 6:00 PM. I go home, have dinner, get ready for bed by 10:00, and be under the covers by 11:00. This routine would give me about eight full hours of sleep.
Unfortunately, this is what usually happens: I wake up at 7:00 AM and be in the office at 9:00 – 6:00. On a busy day, I’d have to stay for two or three more hours (sometimes even until 11:00 PM). Then I’d rush home and have a quick, light dinner. It would be another one and a half hours before the feeling of fullness subsides, and another 30-45 minutes for me to wash up and prepare for bed. I’d be in bed between midnight to 1:00 AM. If I have work to catch up on, I’d set my alarm for 5:00 and try to squeeze in two hours of catch-up work before the day officially starts.
My current routine is terrible for my health, and I am feeling the effects. On the days when I’d only get four hours of sleep, I wake up groggy and tired. I lose focus quickly, have a hard time composing my thoughts, and become less productive at work. The stirrings of fatigue often start on Tuesday and would carry over to the rest of the week. By Friday, I’m squeezing what’s left of my brain fuel while daydreaming about sleeping in the following morning.
A Sleep-Deprived Nation
My work situation has been allowing me only five to six hours of sleep, and based on the Philippine Society of Sleep Medicine (PSSM)’s media forum last year, I’m part of the statistic for 50 million sleep deprived Filipinos.
The PSSM reported that Filipinos are among the worst sleepers in the world, averaging only 6 hours and 22 minutes of sleep a day. And it’s easy to see why. From the long commutes to the technology-driven, 24/7 work environment, Filipino workers have so much to deal with that sleeping becomes the least of their priorities.
The overachiever, go-getter attitude common among Millennials is another driver of sleep deprivation. Sleep is one of the first things young people sacrifice when they’re on a quest to secure projects, meet deadlines, and exceed their clients’ or bosses’ expectations.
If you have trouble sleeping because of these or other factors, you need to do better. Getting enough rest is not just to refuel you for the next day. It’s about extending your life. Studies show that sleeping for five hours or less each night doubles the risk of heart disease and increases mortality risk by 12 percent.
When Benjamin Franklin quoted Poor Richard’s Almanac and said, “There will be sleeping enough in the Grave,” I don’t think he meant we should drive ourselves to an early grave.
Too Much Sleep Is Not Good, Either
The problem with sleep deprivation is we end up wanting to make up for lost sleep, so we stay in bed for 10 hours or more on the weekends. Yes, sleep is essential, but too much of it bad for our health, too.
The same 22-year study that recommended seven to eight hours of sleep concluded that sleeping for more than eight hours increases the risk of mortality by 17-24 percent.
A more recent study conducted in Sweden, which spanned 13 years, had a similar discovery: people who regularly sleep longer than eight hours per night have a higher mortality rate than those who clock in at seven hours. Interestingly, the researchers also found that making up for lost sleep by sleeping in on the weekends can reduce mortality risk.
Sleep: The Third Pillar of Good Health
If you’re one of those who think sleep is wasted time, think again.
Scientists have discovered that when you sleep, the brain becomes highly active. It runs checks on your hormone, enzyme, and protein levels, among others. The brain cells contract during this process, and this allows cerebrospinal fluid to flow and wash out the waste proteins and toxins that build up during the day.
Without this nightly cycle, the toxins in the brain could accumulate and cause brain damage and disease, including Alzheimer’s.
The “dishwasher” effect is one of the best scientific explanations of why sleep is essential for humans. But apart from healthy brain function, you also get plenty of health benefits when you consistently get enough sleep:
- Sharp thinking and problem-solving skills
- High level of alertness
- Better daytime function and productivity
- Good memory
- Good emotional well-being
- Lower risk of heart and kidney diseases; high blood pressure; diabetes; immune system deficiencies; obesity, and stroke
- Faster healing from wounds and illnesses
Given the wealth of research proving the importance of sleep, it’s unsurprising that experts consider it as the third pillar of good health, alongside proper nutrition and exercise.
Strive for Quantity and Quality
Having laid out the benefits of sufficient sleep, I have one more reminder: strive to get good quality sleep each night. That means experiencing deep, undisturbed sleep that has you feeling refreshed and energized when you wake in the morning. Your seven hours in bed doesn’t count if you spent drifting in and out of the REM cycle.
So tonight, do your best to sleep on time. Turn off non-essential cellphone notifications and put away anything that could disrupt your sleep. Finally, set your alarm to wake you after seven hours.
Hope you get a restful sleep!