How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

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How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

The term sleep disorder may suggest someone tossing and turning all night, but lying awake for hours with insomnia is just one example of many conditions that affect how you sleep and function during the day. In fact, you can have a sleep disorder and not even know it. 

How many hours should you sleep?
There’s no normal number of hours that quantifies a good sleep, just like there’s no normal shoe size. Most adults need seven to nine hours a night; others manage just fine with six. It’s even possible to get too much sleep, since spending excess time in bed can be a sign of another health problem, such as depression or chronic fatigue syndrome.

A 2007 British Study found that people who slept the same amount of time (seven hours) each night lived longer, on average, than people who adjusted their schedules to either add or subtract hours from their nightly slumber. Finding your own ideal sleep/wake cycle—and staying consistent—is key to healthy sleep, agrees- Carol Ash, DO, medical director of the Sleep for Life center in Hillsborough, N.J.

Don’t sell yourself short
That doesn’t mean you can shave off hours of much needed rest without consequence: In a different study, the same British scientists also found  that people who are consistently sleep deprived (defined as sleeping five hours or less a night) are at greater risk for high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems—especially women. 
Insufficient sleep also raises your risk for obesity, diabetes, depression, alcoholism, and automatic accidents. Plus, a 2007 University of California–Berkeley study confirmed the obvious: Sleep deprivation directly affects areas of the brain that deal with mood and concentration, leaving tired people grumpy, overly emotional, and unable to focus.
Consider quality and quantity
For all these reasons, doctors need to look at both the quantity and the quality of sleep to detect a problem. And when it comes to sleep quality, problems aren’t always obvious to patients themselves: An insomnia who lies awake at night can easily tell that something is wrong, for example, but someone with  sleep apnea—who repeatedly stops breathing in his sleep—might have no idea there’s a problem. 
The most telling sign of a disorder is how you feel during the day. If you generally wake up alert and refreshed, you’re a healthy sleeper. If you chronically wake up sleepy, irritable, and unfocused—and stay that way throughout the day—you may have a sleep disorder, no matter how much time you spend in bed.

Sleep problems are equal-opportunity afflictions; they strike men and women, from children and teenagers to the elderly. More than half of Americans say they have trouble sleeping a few nights a week, and nearly one in five feels fatigued almost every day. 
And while anyone can struggle with occasional bouts of tossing and turning, there are certain people who run a higher risk of developing a sleep disorder than others. Here are some of the major risk factors for four common conditions, and circumstances that may make you susceptible to sleep problems in general.

Obstructive sleep apnea
Your risk is higher for obstructive sleep apnea if you:

Snore loudly
Are male or a post-menopausal female
Are overweight
Have a thick neck (greater than 16 inches in women, 17 inches in men)
Have naturally small airways in your nose, throat, or mouth
Experience frequent congestion due to hay fever or allergies
Are a smoker
Are a heavy drinker
Are African American, Hispanic, or a Pacific Islander
Are an older adult
Have high blood pressure
Have a family history of sleep apnea
Have diabetes
Have had a mild brain injury

Your risk is higher for insomnia if you:

Are female
Are pregnant or menopausal
Are an older adult
Are under a lot of stress
Suffer from depression or other mental disease
Work at night or have frequent major shift changes at work
Travel long distances with time changes
Have a family history of insomnia

Restless legs syndrome
Your risk is higher for restless legs syndrome (RLS) if you:

Are female
Are middle-age or older
Have a family history of RLS
Are of northern European descent
Are pregnant (symptoms usually occur during the last trimester and disappear within a few weeks of giving birth)

Your risk is higher for narcolepsy if you:

Have a brother, sister, or parent with narcolepsy
Have certain thyroid disorders
Have diabetes
Have an autoimmune disorder

Sleep disorders often surface along with other health problems, as symptoms of both conditions feed off each other. Pain or depression can keep you up at night, for example—while insomnia, in turn, makes pain and depression worse. If you have a chronic disease that might contribute to sleep problems, make sure your doctor addresses both

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