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How Much Sleep Do You Need?

By HealthLife Contributor
Updated: June 30, 2008
We sleep for about a third of our day, and whether you love catching those z's or you wish that you didn't have to bother with it, you can't deny that we need it. Sleep gives your bodies a chance to heal and rest, and though the necessity for sleep still isn't fully explained, it is abundantly clear that without it, many problems start mounting up. If you live a busy life, there is a good chance that you are shorting yourself on sleep, but for many people this can be a difficult thing to really understand. What counts as enough sleep, and how can you be sure you are getting it?

The first thing to think about is what determines how much sleep you need. Chances are, you know someone who looks refreshed after about five hours of sleep and someone else who still looks groggy after nine. What creates this difference in people? Your need for sleep can be influenced by several different factors, including genetics, the quality of your sleep, how much sleep you've gotten the previous night and whether the activities you have conducted during the day are conducive to helping you get to sleep.
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Exercise, for example, can affect your sleep a great deal. You'll find that if you tire yourself out a good hour before you head to bed that you sleep a little more soundly, but if you finish a long run and then try to fall into bed, your adrenaline will keep you up for another hour. Similarly, the amount of light you have seen during the day and whether or not you have been drinking caffeine or alcohol can go a long way towards determining what kind of sleep you will get.

Experiments were performed to see what people would sleep if they were kept in a "timeless" environment, one where they didn't have access to clocks or watches. In this condition, almost all participants eventually regulated themselves to a sleep cycle which lasted around eight hours. Assuming that every human being needs about eight hours of sleep, the sleep debt occurs when you end up getting less.

People are very different and one way to figure out how much sleep you specifically need, try getting a solid eight hours of sleep every night for a week. Make sure that you don't drink caffeine or smoke, which will influence your natural inclinations. Then, at the end of the week, don't set the alarm and find out how long your body wants to sleep. If you end up sleeping for nine or ten hours instead of rising after eight, there is a good chance that you need a bit more than eight hours of sleep a night.

Making sure you get the right amount of sleep can be very important when it comes to your own health and mental acuity. If you go too long without sleep, your reflexes will be very dulled and there is a good chance you will start to experience mood swings. If you constantly find yourself feeling grumpy and groggy and experiencing a constant run of low-grade illness, this is an indication that your sleep might be problematic!
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