LiveSmart: How Much Sleep Do We Need?

[This piece was written by Howard Weiss, DO, FCCP Diplomate, of St. Peter’s Sleep Center.]

Do you wake up each morning without an alarm clock refreshed, alert and ready for the day? Or do you drag yourself out of bed, grumbling until you get your first cup of coffee?

Most Americans, unfortunately, fall into the latter category. A recent National Sleep Foundation study, based on the sleep records of full-time workers between 1975 and 2006, found a significant increase in the number of persons getting less than six hours of sleep per night. This, despite most Americans knowing sleep plays an important role in good health.

So, how much sleep do we really need? Age is a major factor. Newborns spend upwards of 16 hours every day sleeping, with the need gradually declining as we age. Elementary school children generally need 10 to 12 hours per night, and adolescents usually require about nine.

Most experts agree that sleep requirements for adults vary; however, the vast majority require between seven and nine hours per night. After about age 25, the amount remains fairly stable.

Insufficient sleep comes in different forms. There is total sleep deprivation, such as from an “allnighter.” Most people notice a difference in their alertness, mood and mental clarity following nights like this. Perhaps more common is “chronic sleep restriction,” when we get fewer hours of sleep per night than we require over extended periods of time.

In a 2003 study at the University of Pennsylvania, subjects were assigned to groups sleeping four, six or eight hours per night, for a two-week period, in the sleep lab. Every two hours during the day, the subjects underwent a psychomotor vigilance test measuring the type of sustained attention and focus important for tasks such as driving, careful reading, or a math problem.

Over the study period, subjects getting eight hours of sleep per night demonstrated no significant inattention or signs of cognitive impairment, but subjects in the other groups were found to have steady decline in these functions. By the end of two weeks, those sleeping six hours per night developed cognitive impairment similar to subjects deprived of sleep for 24 hours straight.

When pressed by a busy schedule, it’s tempting to sacrifice an hour or two of sleep in order to get things done. But, if it becomes a regular habit, you are on track for a substantial sleep debt that sleeping in over the weekend will not rectify. So, make sleep a priority. If snoring, difficulty sleeping or daytime sleepiness are problematic, talk to your doctor.

St. Peter’s Sleep Center, accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, is staffed by board-certified sleep specialists and provides comprehensive services for sleep disorders. For more information, visit or call 518-464-9999.

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