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How Much Sleep do you REALLY Need?

By Krista Elliott

I love sleep. Seriously, I would be the Michael Phelps of the Olympic sleeping team if there were such a thing. As a teenager, I regularly slept in until noon on the weekends. And even now, as a mother of two small boys, I grab every ounce of sleep I possibly can. 

Then, you have other people who view sleep as a necessary evil. They'll sleep the bare minimum of hours they need to function, and no more than that. People like Martha Stewart, Thomas Edison, President-elect Donald Trump, and Nikola Tesla? Three to four hours a night, and then a brisk leap out of bed to get back to work. And yet, you can't draw a straight correlation between lack of sleep and success, as Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Jeff Bezos, all of whom sleep between 7-9 hours a night, could tell you.

So why do some people need more sleep than others? How much do we really need, and what happens if we don't get enough? 

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Most adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep nightly to function effectively. That amount can vary pretty widely, from as little as six hours to as much as 11.

Why is There Such a Wide Range?

That's a question that has baffled scientists for quite a while. However, a recent breakthrough has provided some clues. A researcher named Alan Pack and his team have discovered that your need to sleep may be genetic, and that ultra-low sleep requirements are associated with a mutation in a gene linked to circadian rhythms. This may explain people like Stewart, Edison, Trump, and Tesla: They're mutants (in a minor way, not in a cool X-Men kind of way ... well, except maybe for Tesla).

What Happens if I Don't Get Enough?

Sadly, in today's society, we often fall well short of the sleep that we need. Longer working hours, longer commutes, and 11 p.m. emails from the boss have made it a lot harder to wind down and get to bed at a decent hour. Add to this our perverse culture which associates sleep with sloth, treating sleep deprivation as a badge of honor, and we have a nation full of sleep-deprived zombies. What are the risks, other than the obvious ones like falling asleep at work or behind the wheel?

  • Memory Loss - You learn new information while you're awake, but your sleeping hours are when your brain processes it all, consolidating and storing new memories. A lack of sleep makes it harder to retain new information.
  • Concentration - Sleep deprivation makes it more difficult to focus on what you're doing, and it also effects your ability to judge and react to situations or information. You're more easily distracted, irritable, and short-tempered. 
  • Appetite - When you don't get enough sleep, it messes with your hormone levels, increasing hunger. Plus, if you eat supper at 7 p.m. and go to bed at 10, you'll probably be fine. If you eat supper at 7 p.m. and go to bed at midnight? Guess who's rummaging through the cupboards at 10:30? 

So if you aren't getting enough sleep, and I bet you aren't, try to gradually move your bedtime a little earlier every week. When you start waking up feeling alert, and don't need 14 coffees to get through your day, you know you're on the right track to the amount of sleep that will help you feel and function your best.

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