How much sleep do you need?

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Jun. 01, 2019

American inventor Thomas Edison reportedly slept three hours at night, regarding sleep as a waste of time. Renowned painter Leonard da Vinci slept only two hours a night. Did these intellectual minds simply require less sleep than everyone else, or is sleep a matter of personal choice and lifestyle?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is a vital indicator of overall health and well-being. A continued lack of sleep can cause long-term health problems, including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke. Other potential problems include obesity and depression.

Research cannot determine exactly how much sleep people need for optimal health. However, the National Sleep Foundation provides recommendations for how much sleep people should get based on their age.

Recommendations are provided for nine age groups, ranging from newborns to older adults. For example, toddlers (1-2 years) should get 11 to 14 hours of sleep a night; school-age children (6-13), 9 to 11 hours; and adults (26-64), 7 to 9 hours. The National Sleep Foundation recently added recommended sleep durations for two new age categories: younger adults (18-25), 7 to 9 hours; and older adults (65+), 7 to 8 hours.

People who do not get enough sleep may have a medically diagnosed sleep disorder. These conditions can include sleep apnea, periodic limb movement disorder, narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome, insomnia, and nighttime behaviors like sleepwalking and REM sleep behavior disorder. However, not getting enough sleep is not always due to an underlying medical reason.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine states that behaviorally-induced Insufficient Sleep Syndrome (ISS) is a prevalent cause of excessive daytime sleepiness and fatigue. It occurs when a person fails to get enough sleep, resulting in sleep deprivation.

ISS is a result of choices that people make that keep them from getting enough sleep. Common causes of ISS include working long hours and/or shift work, or restricting sleeping in favor of some other activity, such as watching TV. To further complicate matters, stimulants such as coffee, energy drinks, and lights from electronic devices can interfere with the sleep cycle.

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