How much sleep do you need? This seems like a question that many already believe they know the answer to. Received wisdom is that you need eight hours or sleep. This seems nice and neat as you are also told that you need eight glasses of water a day. However, as with much of this commonly assumed knowledge, the reality is that the old ‘eight hours a night’ shtick is wrong. In fact, one of the biggest ever sleep studies found that people who sleep for eight hours a day are more likely to die young than those that slept for between six and seven hours.
If you ask most people how much sleep they need they will say eight hours a night. That is the general answer from almost everyone. While for many years it hasn’t been seriously challenged, a recent sleep study, one of the biggest ever with hundreds of thousands of participants, found that in fact eight hours a night is far from optimal.
The study found that those who slept for eight hours or more a night were actually 12 percent more likely to die young than those who slept for between six and seven hours a night. This study seems to throw water on the idea that eight hours is the optimal time. If you sleep for eight hours or more though you should not panic, as while these big scientific studies are useful for aggregate they are not always so easy to relate to the individual, which is what we will look at now.
However, it should be noted that there are many sleep experts who believe that there is no magic number when it comes to sleep and that in fact as we grow our need for sleep changes. Also, the amount of sleep required varies across individuals, meaning that there is not simple answer.
The reality is that there are no simple answers, that as you age you will need different amounts of sleep and that you will need different amounts of sleep than others. When you are a young child you need more than eight hours of sleep, then once you have got to about four or five your need for sleep drops and continues to drop until you reach your teens at which point your sleep requirements increase again. Then once you have become an adult your sleep needs drop again only to rise again as you reach your 60s. In other words you sleep requirements go up and down several times over your life.
Also, there is wide variation amongst individuals. Some people have managed to live their lives on an average of four hours sleep a night. Take the former British PM Margaret Thatcher, she slept no more than four hours a night yet she not only ruled the UK for almost a decade but she also lived into her 80s.
The reality is that while eight hours might be bad for humanity in general it is not bad for many of the individuals who make up the aggregate number.
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