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How Much Sleep You Need

No matter what your walk of life, one thing is certain: Your path will end at your bedside at the end of the day. Everybody needs sleep, and almost anybody will tell you they don’t get enough of it. So how much is enough? Can we condition our bodies to needing less of it? These questions and others are the focus of a number of health studies that seek to shed some light on the little-known facts concerning the subject of shut-eye.

In Health and Fitness Journal, Peter H. Walters, Ph.D., said, "Although 98 percent of Americans say that sleep is very important, most Americans have a limited knowledge of basic sleep facts, and many have incorrect information." So what’s the truth about sleep?

The most common assumption about sleep is that every person needs eight hours a day. Actually, each person needs a different amount of sleep. Eight hours is the statistical average of the number of hours needed.

Another frequently asked question is whether or not we "can learn to function normally with one or two fewer hours of sleep a night." The answer is no. “An individual’s sleep need is genetically determined," Walters said. A person can teach him or herself to function on less sleep, but in order to maximize the effectiveness of awake time and feel the best, the right amount of sleep is needed.

But what if you just wanted to rest for a little while without losing consciousness? Walters says it doesn’t count. Simply resting with one’s eyes closed “cannot satisfy [one’s] need for sleep." The REM and four accompanying stages of sleep are needed for real rest.

Another mistaken assumption is that snoring does not harm anyone, besides being annoying and making people wake up. According to Walters, snoring, a sleep disorder of about 30 millions Americans, is actually the primary "indicator of … obstructive sleep apnea."

Many wonder if exercise truly helps us feel better. The fact is, it does. A 1994 Stanford study showed that individuals who exercised slept better and fell asleep up to 30 minutes faster. Michael Vitiello, a researcher at the University of Washington, found that regular exercisers sleep for longer periods than a more inert comparison group.

So does age affect the hours of sleep one needs? Actually, Walters said, "Although there may be a slight decline in some aging individuals, the average person’s sleep needs remain fairly constant from early adulthood into old age." Older people may get more naps during the day and sleep less at night, but this adds up to the same amount of sleep that they got when they were younger.

One more common misconception is that while driving sleepy, turning up the volume on the radio helps you stay conscious. However, turning the radio up, opening the windows and chewing gum do not help prevent the danger of driving when drowsy. According to Walters, "Prevention strategies, such as getting adequate sleep before driving for extended periods, traveling with someone who can share driving responsibilities and taking a short break every 100 miles or two hours can prevent drowsiness from becoming dangerous."

See Also

[Sources: Walters, Peter H. Sleep Facts. ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal. November/December 2000; Can Regular Physical Activity Improve Quality of Sleep in Older Adults? Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention, 1994.]

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