If you're like most people, your list of things to do just keeps growing. To stay on top of it you cut back on sleep, telling yourself that you can get by on six hours — or less. Besides, you can make it up on the weekend, right? Wrong.
No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, adults really do need about eight hours of sleep, experts say. "It's so pervasive in our society to be sleep deprived," said Timothy Grant, M.D., a neurologist and Baptist Health's director of sleep education. "Everyone knows people who say, 'I can get by with five hours of sleep. I'm just fine with that.' But then if you ask them what they do on the weekend or on vacation, they tell you they sleep. That's just proof they are not getting enough sleep."
Experts have found that, beyond leaving people bleary-eyed, failing to get enough sleep can heighten the risk for cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and depression. Even minimal sleep loss takes a toll on motor reflexes, concentration, creativity, energy and ability to handle stress.
While not everyone needs the same amount of sleep, studies have shown that adults generally need between seven and eight hours to awaken spontaneously, feeling refreshed. Children and teens need even more, as much as 13 hours for preschoolers and nine hours for teens. Consistently sleeping less than your body needs creates a "sleep debt" that can be difficult to repay. Snoozing more on weekends and vacation is not enough. "We all do it, but it's not the greatest idea," said Dr. Grant.
Sleep consists of a series of distinct cycles and stages that restore and refresh your body and mind. It is as necessary to our bodies as food, water and oxygen. It has become an area of extensive research, including studies on what is considered the right amount.
"It turns out you can sleep too long, as well as sleep too short," Dr. Grant said. "You should sleep no longer than nine hours and no shorter than six. The optimum duration of sleep is 7.5-8 hours for the average adult."