Study reveals a new gold standard for sleep and its not 8 hours

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.”

These words depict most of our sleep patterns. For maximum performance and overall good health, how much sleep is needed each day? Although researchers continue to discuss the question of what constitutes “good sleep,” growing research suggests that the new gold standard may be seven hours — not eight as we have been hearing since a long time.

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Authors of a study published online in July 2020 suggest that seven hours of sleep appear to be a more optimal number for reducing the risk of “all-cause mortality,” particularly in diabetes-patients. They specifically claim that diabetic patients who sleep for eight hours or more are at higher risk of cancer and those who stay in bed for 10 hours or more are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

Their results are in line with previous University of California researchers’ observations that “the best survival [in the average adult] was found among those who slept seven hours per night” and that those who reported sleeping eight hours or more or more or six hours or less “experienced a substantially higher risk of mortality.” Other researchers say that the healthiest sleep period can vary from individual to individual.

Lack of sleep

Yet experts agree that chronically inadequate sleep is related to a number of physical and psychological health issues, including impairments in thought, judgment, problem-solving, and reasoning, memory deficiencies, depression and mood disorders, neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and increased risks of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke and even early death. A significant cause of motor vehicle accidents is also the lack of adequate sleep. Driving drowsy is equivalent to driving drunk. In the meantime, a December 2018 article in the Sleep journal states that a person who sleeps an average of just four hours per night ages his or her brain by eight years.

Why Sleep?

Despite years of study, scientists admit that much remains to be known about sleep. What is known is that the brain uses sleep to eliminate metabolic waste including the amygdalae, that plays an important role in mood, memory and emotion from its structures.

Some experts suggest that a good night’s sleep can also help keep your cells young by keeping the stem cells of a person in a dormancy state. German scientists suggest that insufficient sleep places continued stress on stem cells and causes their premature aging.

Don’t force sleep, you can’t

Remaining in bed and attempting to force sleep just to reach a certain amount of hours can, paradoxically, lead to insomnia, the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, or the urge to wake up too early. Although the underlying causes of insomnia are numerous, this condition can occur, on a psychological basis, when one overthinks the falling asleep phase, worries about staying asleep for a certain period of time, or becomes increasingly nervous and tense as one’s bedtime nears.

Such stress is counterproductive and prevents sleep, holding a person in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Around 30-35 percent of the adult population experiences acute (short-term) episodes of insomnia that, thankfully, resolve on their own, in most cases. However, another 10 percent suffer from persistent insomnia.

COVID-19 and insomnia

Thanks to COVID-19 these percentages can now be higher. A Chinese study highlighted a rise in widespread anxiety and insomnia among medical staff treating COVID-19 patients and the general public, whose daily lives have been interrupted due to social isolation, leading to confusion along with health and financial worries induced by the virus.

The secret to right sleep

So, what is the answer for better sleep? Experts say that it is you, for the most part. Let’s take a look at few tips that may help you with a relaxing night’s sleep:

  • Change your behavior, your world outlook and your place in it, learn to relax, reflect on calming memories and images, create a greater sense of optimism.
  • After about 15 to 20 minutes of sleeplessness, get up, leave the bedroom and indulge in a soothing activity such as reading or listening to soft music until you become exhausted and is ready to go back to bed. Lying there thinking about sleep just causes insomnia.
  • Avoid watching the clock and counting the hours until you have to get up. Take a towel and cover it up. When you fall asleep, the clock does not care and neither should you.
  • If you had a bad sleep previous night, don’t go to bed early the next night to make up for it. You’re only likely to lay there worrying and wonder why you can’t sleep. Stick to your usual routine.

Since the right hours of sleep are somewhat subjective among people, you don’t have to be too concentrated on putting a number on them. If you are able to stick to daily sleep schedules, practice proper sleep hygiene and wake up refreshed, you are probably doing it right.

We may have a hundred different things to do and worry about but it is important to just cast them away at bedtime because “your future depends on your dreams, so go to sleep.”

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