How Many Hours Do I Need?
If you asked the average person how much sleep they need, they would probably answer with something like “8 hours” or “6 to 8 hours”. There is nothing wrong with the high end of this answer. The problem lies in how we view the consequences of not getting the full 8 or 9 hours of sleep we need.
Most people understand that 8 hours is the optimal amount of sleep, but fail to see how serious missing sleep can be. All sleep is important to our body’s vital functions. However, the last couple hours of a good night’s rest are responsible for a whole lot more than we believe. The truth is that those who cut corners on their sleep are doing a whole lot more damage than they realize
A Critical Sleep Phase
Researchers have been examining a phenomenon in the brain known as “sleep spindles” for decades now, and are constantly uncovering new links between sleep and important brain development. This information came about as the result of measuring brain activity on subjects who are able to sleep for the full 8 or 9 hours they need.
The result was that they found these “sleep spindles” were mostly saved for a single period of the whole duration of sleep. This huge jump in activity has important implications for a few functions of the brain most would hope to protect or improve.
The Last Two Hours
The last two hours are specifically where the high brain activity occurs, and is the period where most long term memory storage and skill development is done. Sleep spindles are especially important in the consolidation and formation of memories, but how exactly this is carried out is not clear to us. Instead we examine the affects of various sleep patterns on participants of various studies.
One 2003 study published in the US National Library of Medicine found that those that slept 6 hours a night run into the same issues as those who literally do not sleep at all. The only difference is the subject who stays up for multiple days immediately feels sleep deprived, where the 6 hour a night sleeper did not notice any immediate negative changes. Over a two week period this changes, and eventually the individual who does not sleep a full eight hours tests at the same level on various measures of mental performance.
Partial Sleep Deprivation
Partial sleep deprivation affects an indescribably large amount of people across the entire world. This research shows that although the immediate effects are not as obvious, there is still a huge effect on the mental faculties of those who regularly lose out on sleep.
It is extremely important to put into perspective how important the total process of sleep is. It is not meeting a certain threshold of sleep that is important, but going through with the entire act itself rather than cutting it short.
Losing out on the final couple hours of your sleep may not seem like a huge issue long term, but research shows that it will catch up to you eventually. The effects will not be immediately obvious to you as you become sleep deprived.
Going to bed an hour or two earlier could make the difference and push you towards succeeding at learning new skills, succeeding at a new position or job field, or improving your memory. Taking control of your sleep schedule will improve your quality of life in a variety of ways, and there’s no substitute for a good night’s sleep.