Does everyone really need 8 hours? Can chronic sleep deprivation be fatal? Are naps healthy or not? The question of how much sleep do we need is an important question – and also a complex one. So let’s start with a simpler one:

Why is sleep important at all?

Sleep is crucial for both your physical and your mental health and wellbeing. We spend about a third of our lives sleeping to be productive, keep our brain, heart and immune system in top shape, and to remain emotionally balanced, creative and energetic with a healthy and consistent bodyweight.

That said, we understand just how hard it can be to squeeze in enough shut-eye. Perhaps you’re super-busy, you have trouble nodding off, or you’ve always preferred to keep rocking through the night. However, consistent research shows that even a minor drop-off in your sleep can affect your health, stress, energy and concentration levels – and if it’s long-term, the impact can be significant.

So how much sleep should I be getting?

Let’s bust some sleep myths:

  • 3-4 hours a night is enough
  • You easily adjust to an altered sleep schedule
  • A quick nap or a Sunday sleep-in solves everything

Did you know the typical Australian gets less than 7 hours of sleep a night? If you think that’s working for you, think again: You’re actually on the road to chronic sleep deprivation – and you may already have arrived at that unfortunate destination. Just because you’re getting by ok on that schedule, you’ll feel a whole lot better with an earlier bedtime.

So how much sleep do we need? The kids and teens need more, and the over-65s might get by with an hour or so less, but uncontroversial sleep recommendations call for a minimum of 7 and up to 9 or more hours of shut-eye each night for optimal mood, focus, health & wellbeing. That’s because sleep is a little like food, air and water – we need it simply to survive.

You may think those brain and biological processes take a well-earned rest when we nod off, but a lot is actually going on:

  • Your brain codes information and rids itself of toxins
  • Your nerve cells chatter and coordinate
  • Your body repairs cells, fills up its energy stores, and circulates and replenishes hormones, proteins and other molecules.

In more detail, you need sleep:

For energy: Over 24 hours, we conserve up to 40 percent of our energy reserves by falling asleep and allowing our bodies and brains to tick over at a lower metabolic rate. So when we’re not working or playing, we’re saving our power for the following day of productive work and enjoyable play.

To restore cells: When we sleep, existing cells all over our bodies enter a period of re-growth and repair.

For brain function: The neurons and nerve cells in our brains clear themselves of the toxic waste that accumulated during the day. As they reorganise themselves, memories are encoded, useless information is cleared out, and we’re ready to learn, remember, solve problems and focus.

For our emotional wellbeing: While much of our body rests while asleep, the brain activities regulating emotional stability actually get busy. Our brain’s emotion centre is the amygdala, which tends to overreact when we’re sleep-deprived.

For a healthy weight: Believe it or not, how hungry you get can depend on your quality of sleep. Get enough shut-eye, and the production of the hormone ghrelin will decrease, making you less hungry. Stay up too late, and your hunger-inducing hormone leptin will ramp up.

For insulin function: Insulin is the hormone that regulates how sugar is turned into energy. Without enough sleep, you can become insulin resistant and increase your risk of diabetes.

For your immune system: When you sleep, you produce proteins called cytokines as well as antibodies, which fight off germs, infections and inflammation. That’s why your recommended sleep time increases when you’re not well.

For your heart: Studies have correlated chronically low levels of sleep with heart disease and high blood pressure.

The jury’s in: How much sleep should you get?

The recommended sleep for adults of between 7 and 9 hours per night should be taken as a rough guide, as exactly the right amount for you depends on your age, activity level, general health, lifestyle and many other factors. And while it’s true that you can actually sleep too much, the best way to find what’s right for you is to tune into your levels of energy, focus and mood during the day and evening.

One of the easiest ways to get a better night’s sleep is by turning to SleepWise, your local sleep specialists for customised, comfortable and affordable oral appliances to reduce snoring and help with sleep apnoea. We’d love to help you get more, and better shut-eye, so get in touch with the friendly team today.

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