When life gets busy, sleep is one of the first things to be cut from our schedules. With one third of our lives spent asleep, it shouldn't be a big deal to skip a few hours, and scientists have yet to figure out why we need so much of it. The fact is, getting the right amount of sleep staves off a wide variety of ailments, including simple exhaustion, obesity and diabetes. Now, a new ten year study is showing that getting too much sleep might be even more dangerous than getting too little.
At the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, Professor Franco Cappuccio has been analyzing sleep for the past ten years. Over a million people have been surveyed across 16 independent studies. Cappuccio, a specialist in cardiovascular health, has been searching for a connection between the mortality rates of those who slept less than 6 hours, up to eight hours and more than eight hours.
Professor Cappuccio made some startling discoveries. There were 12% more fatalities in the group that slept less than six hours than those who slept the recommended six to eight, but the truly frightening discovery was the 30% more deaths in those individuals that slept more than eight hours. Even Cappuccio found this number distressing. He removed those individuals that suffered from depression or used sleep aids, but the results stayed the same.
The Science of Sleep
Humans spend one third of their lives sleeping. While awake, our bodies slowly build up the chemical adenosine in the blood stream. The chemical suppresses brain function, causing you to feel unfocused, tired and, eventually, sleepy. When finally asleep, this chemical is removed from the blood over the course of seven hours. This is why sleep debt occurs. Only sleeping three hours for three days will have the same effect as skipping a full night. To make up the deficit, the body will need extra sleep later. Things like caffeine, alarm clocks and bright rooms can interrupt this natural cycle, causing ineffective adenosine removal. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the United States suffers a $66 billion dollar loss from insufficient sleep schedules, totaled across 100,000 traffic accidents, 76,000 workplace injuries and 1,500 sleep deprived deaths. The amount of sleep needed also varies greatly over our lifetime. A three month old newborn needs up to 17 hours of sleep a day while teens require only ten hours.
The team of scientists at Warwick University has concluded that sleeping too much isn’t what’s killing people, but that oversleeping is a telltale sign of other, perhaps hidden, illnesses. What is clear is that their research has shown the optimal amount of sleep for adults 26 to 64 years old is seven to eight hours. Whether reached through a single restful night or through naps, research continually shows a healthy amount at seven hours. This number was also backed up by Dr. Gregg Jacobs, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts’ Sleep Disorder Center.
Many people are unable to get their ideal sleep time in due to time constraints and health issues.
For those who cannot sleep due to anxiety, relaxation exercises and the removal of stressful stimuli can help. If you have trouble staying asleep due to breathing problems, using natural snoring sleep help and adjusting your sleeping position might solve this. If you do find yourself needing to skip a few hours of sleep, it's important to know how to do it properly.
While asleep, your body goes through two stages, a restful deep sleep and REM, Rapid Eye Moment. In REM sleep, you dream, check in on your surroundings and wake up to noise or sunlight. This process takes 90 minutes and is repeated five times over a healthy seven and half hour rest. If you need to cut sleep, schedule your wake up at a 90 minute interval. Three hours of sleep will feel more restful than 4 interrupted hours. Be sure to make a plan for when you will pay off your sleep debt later.