In a Nutshell
- Adequate sleep is essential to good physical, mental, and emotional health
- Adults should get a minimum of 7 hours and a maximum of 9 hours of sleep
- Many controllable factors contribute to sleep, positively and negatively
Most adults do not get an adequate amount of sleep, largely because we forgo sleep to get things done. Some people claim to feel rested on just a few hours of sleep, but over time their physical and mental performance is affected, which has personal and professional impacts. Research shows that adults who get 7 hours of sleep do much better on complex mental tasks than those who get less.
During deep sleep, your body and brain are still hard at work. Because your muscles aren’t creating high demand and because less energy is required for basic metabolic functions (breathing, heart rate, thinking), your body is able to focus on necessary recovery and repair. The heart and vessels relax and recover while you are asleep. Muscles, organs, and other cells are also repaired, and chemicals that strengthen your immune system start to circulate in the blood. Recovery and repair take time, and since this only occurs in a deep sleep state, which is about 1/5 of your time asleep, in a 7-hour sleep window that’s only about an hour and half. Less with less total sleep time.
Scientists also believe that rapid eye movement (REM) level sleep, in particular, helps your brain to clean house by dumping information you don’t need. This is evidenced by people remembering facts and completing tasks more accurately, even more easily solving difficult puzzles, after getting REM sleep. These advantages decrease significantly or are lost entirely in people who don’t get REM level sleep.
Your body goes through a number of positive chemical changes during sleep. Growth hormone level increases, which assists in cellular repair, and cortisol levels decrease. Cortisol is a stress-related hormone that can have many negative systemic effects. A lack of sleep also causes imbalances in hormones that control hunger, changing how much you eat and potentially leading to weight gain.
Can You Get Too Much Sleep?
Yes, and there are health consequences. Studies on extended sleep – beyond 9 hours – find that adults report increased fatigue, irritability, sluggishness, bad mood, and mental processing problems. This can trigger the desire to sleep more and cause a terrible cycle. Even in young adults, who enjoy sleeping in on the weekends, over time this can contribute to depression, back pain, and increased inflammation resulting in muscle soreness and joint stiffness.
According to several studies conducted over many years, oversleeping has also been linked to higher risk of developing significant health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and a higher risk of death in general.
A “good” sleep regimen means engaging in multiple behaviors that promote adequate sleep and prevent oversleeping. Sleep regimens should be tailored to each individual, though include a number of standards that have been proven to work. Your regimen is known as your “sleep hygiene.”
Promoting Adequate Sleep
- Go to bed at the same time every night
- Get up at the same time every day
- Be moderately active on most days by moving around frequently, stretching, walking, doing chores, running errands, exercising, and engaging in activities
- Avoid stimulants and alcohol before bed
- Avoid exercise before bed
- Find calming, relaxing things to do
- Turn off overhead lights
- Stop using electronic devices well before bedtime
- Limit television and stay more than 6 feet from the screen at night
- Create a dark, cool, quiet, comfortable environment for sleeping
- Expose yourself to plenty of daylight/sunlight during morning and afternoon hours
- Get just enough sleep, between 7-9 hours
- Keep to a tight sleep schedule
- Avoid sleeping in on weekends and holidays, as this disrupts circadian rhythms
- Put your alarm clock across the room and don’t hit snooze
- Expose yourself to bright daylight upon waking (leave curtains open overnight)
- Eat within 30 minutes of rising
- Avoid frequent or lengthy naps, especially after 4:00pm
- Combat sadness, boredom, and listlessness with activity rather than sleep
- If you’re still oversleeping, consult a medical professional
Diet and Sleep
Eating a balanced diet is linked with normal sleep durations. A wide range of vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, and whole grains provides the necessary nutrients and adequate calories, carbohydrates, and fats required for healthy sleep. Foods rich in B vitamins and folic acid, that also increase your serotonin level, especially help to promote healthy sleep.
Sleep-supporting foods are complex carbohydrates, heart-healthy fats, lean proteins, fresh herbs, dairy products (warm milk – our mothers and grandmothers were right!), herbal teas, red and orange vegetables, leafy greens, and nuts.
Even if you’re eating sleep-promoting foods at dinner or for a nighttime snack, though, make sure you’re not eating too close to bedtime. Eating shortly before going to bed can actually disrupt sleep. Finish eating at least 1 hour before going to bed.
STRENGTH OF EVIDENCE: A
Good sleep health and sleep hygiene assertions are based on a preponderance of consistent and good-quality, patient-oriented evidence.
OUR RULING: A good sleep regimen starts with going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time every day, with 7-9 hours of sleep in between. It is enhanced by a large combination of the recommendations here, individualized to your lifestyle and goals.
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- Kirkpatrick, K. (2020, January 13). 5 foods that help you sleep. Cleveland Clinic.https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-foods-that-help-you-sleep/.
- Kohn, T.P., John, J.R., Haney, N.M., Pastuszak, A.W., & Lipschultz, L.I. (2020). The effect of sleep on men’s health. Translational Andrology & Urology, 9(Supp 2), S178-S185.
- Olson, E.J. (2019, June 06). How many hours of sleep are enough for good health? https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/faq-20057898.
- Osmun, R. (2020, March 05). Oversleeping: The effects & health risks of sleeping too much. Amerisleep. https://amerisleep.com/blog/oversleeping-the-health-effects/#:~:text=Too%20much%20sleep%20on%20a,or%20cumulatively%20during%20the%20week.
- Richards, A., Kanady, J.C., Huie, J.R., Straus, L.D., Inslicht, S.S., Levihn-Coon, A., Metzler, T.J., & Neylan, T.C. (2019). Work by day and sleep by night, do not sleep too little or too much: Effects of sleep duration, time of day and circadian synchrony on flanker?task performance in internet brain?game users from teens to advanced age. Journal of Sleep Research. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12919
- Swiner, C. (2020, May 29). What happens when you sleep? WebMD.https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/ss/slideshow-sleep-body-effects.
- Wild, C.J., Nichols, E.S., Battista, M.E., Stojanoski, B., & Owen, A.M. (2018). Dissociable effects of self-reported daily sleep duration on high-level cognitive abilities. Journal of Sleep and Sleep Disorders Research, 41(12), 1-11.