We’re becoming walking zombies

No doubt you’ve experienced an afternoon energy crash, uncontrollable yawning or the simple desire to close your eyes and rest. It may be hard to stay awake and it usually hits around 3pm, but it’s even tougher to manage the information we receive about sleep, the best way to get it and most importantly, how much we really need. And it seems we’re a sleepy bunch, a recent Gallup poll shows 40 percent of us get less than the current recommendation of seven to nine hours. Is that how much we really need?


The truth is it depends. You’ve heard me say this phrase before but it’s all about bio-individuality. It depends on you and your individual sleep needs, which are determined by your age, your health, your stress level and most critically, how you feel with different amounts of sleep. I usually need about 8 hours of sleep. And if it’s only 9:30pm and I’m exhausted, I listen to my body and get to bed. Sleeping ‘in’ has always been an issue for me. My internal clock wakes me between 5:30-6:00 every morning but that seems to work for me.


Sleep needs, explained. Think about sleep and the amount you need like a bank account. Each of us has a basal sleep need, which is the minimum amount of regular sleep our bodies need for ideal functioning. Compare this to the amount of money you need in your bank account to maintain your lifestyle. We also have a sleep debt, or an accumulated deficit of sleep lost to late nights, early mornings or poor quality sleep. In the financial world, sleep debt equals credit card debt. If you maintain a basal amount of seven to nine recommended hours most nights but don’t pay back your debt, you’re in arrears. Research shows basal need and debt interact, causing us to feel less alert and more sleepy at various times throughout the day that correlate to natural circadian dips, or biological signals that tell the body sleep needs are accumulating.


Sleeping longer. Now, if you’re thinking you’ll just find a way to sleep for longer periods to catch up, don’t hit the snooze button just yet. Early research shows sleeping longer than nine hours may actually carry increased risk of illness, accidents and even death. The jury is still out on whether or not other factors, such as socioeconomic status, are involved.  More studies are warranted to be sure.



Sleeping less. Although we don’t yet know the exact implications of long sleep durations, studies show more definitively that shorter sleeping lengths of four to five hours have negative effects, both physically and neurologically.


Determine what’s best for you. Because of individual needs, there is no magic number for recommended hours of sleep for everyone. To determine what’s best for you, make your sleep a priority. Try different sleep durations, taking notes on how you feel in the morning, throughout the day and at bedtime. Always follow recommendations for good sleep hygiene and zero in on sleep amounts that result in optimal energy levels throughout the day. And if you have questions, reach out to your doctor, health coach or a sleep specialist for help.





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