Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Morgan Explores the Age-Old Question: How Much Sleep is Actually Needed?
Ask 10 people how many hours of sleep each night is optimal and you are likely to get 10 different responses. Actually, you are likely to get more than 10, because many people do not have a fixed number in mind. Sometimes, Dr. Jeffrey Morgan says that they believe that five or six hours of sleep at night is enough. At other times, anything less than seven hours is bad news.
Does this mean that there is no definitive answer to the question “how much sleep is really enough?” Well, yes and no. For starters, there is no magic number that applies to all people across all age groups, and in all situations. However, this doesn’t mean that the answer is wholly subjective, or that people are good at determining how much sleep they should be getting. In fact, the opposite is typically the case.
When it comes to sleep deprivation, most people don’t realize how bad they feel. After one or two nights without enough sleep, individuals can become cranky, achy, distracted, eat too much or not enough, and so on. But then something strange happens. They start getting used to feeling lousy and based on this they convince themselves that they’ve re-trained their body to tolerate less sleep. Of course, this is not the case at all. But they believe otherwise, and subsequently increase their sleep deficit rather than catch-up — that is, until they get sick or suffer some other preventable accident or incident that forces them into bed either at home, or maybe in the hospital.
Dr. Jeffrey Morgan, a cardiothoracic surgeon, points out that it helps to look at recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation, which spent more than two years analyzing studies and consulting with leading sleep specialists, scientists and researchers. The general guidelines for recommended amounts of daily sleep are:
· Newborns 0–3 months: 14–17 hours of sleep
· Infants 4–11 months: 12–15 hours of sleep
· Toddlers 1–2 years: 11–14 hours of sleep
· Preschoolers 3–5 years: 10–13 hours of sleep
· School-age children 6–13 years: 9–11 hours of sleep
· Teenagers 14–17: 8–10 hours of sleep
· Younger adults 18–25 years: 7–9 hours of sleep
· Adults: 26–64 years: 7–9 hours of sleep
· Older adults 65+ years: 7–8 hours of sleep
While these recommendations are useful, people need to pay attention to their body and heed the symptoms that they’re not getting enough quality sleep. Some common warning signs include — but are not limited to — forgetfulness, fatigue, depressed mood, irritability, inability to concentrate, excess weight gain, premature skin aging, reduced libido, and perhaps most frightening of all, a host of serious heart health problems.
Chronic sleep deprivation can put people at risk of heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, hypertension and stroke. In addition, most people suffering from ongoing insomnia have at least one other serious health condition.
And so, if sleep deprivation is the problem — and according to research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this is indeed the case for more than a third of adults between 18–60 years of age — what is the solution? Surprisingly, the answer might not be to get more sleep.
Many people are getting seven or eight hours of sleep a night on average, but it’s not quality sleep, Dr. Jeffrey Morgan points out. People check their phones late into the night, constantly change their sleep times, are over-stimulated from caffeine and sugar, or it could be that they’re flopping down on a bad mattress or sleeping in an improper position. The good news is that all these factors — and there are potentially dozens of them — can be addressed and alleviated, if not in many cases eliminated. People concerned about sleep deprivation should speak with their doctor or consult credible sources like the National Sleep Foundation for resources and tips.