How Sleep Affects Your Health

How much sleep do we really need and why?


Whether you’re scrambling to meet the demands of a busy schedule or just finding it hard to wind down for bedtime, getting by on less shuteye may seem like the only answer. Even minimal sleep loss can take a substantial toll on your mood, energy, mental sharpness, and ability to handle stress. Chronic sleep deprivation over an extended period of time, can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health. By understanding your body’s needs and how to bounce back from a lack of sufficient rest, you can finally get on a healthy slumber schedule and improve the quality of your busy life.

alarm clock snooze

Why is sleep so important?

The quality of your sleep directly affects your mental and physical health as well as the quality of your life. This can include productivity, emotional balance, brain and heart health, immune system, creativity, vitality, and even your weight. No other activity delivers so many benefits with so little effort!

Sleep isn’t merely a time when your body shuts off. While you rest, your brain stays busy, overseeing biological maintenance that keeps your body running in top condition, preparing you for the day ahead. Without enough hours of restorative sleep, your ability to work, learn, create, and communicate at a level even close to your true potential is negatively affected. If you regularly skimp on “service” you’re headed for a major mental and physical breakdown.

The good news is, you don’t have to choose between health and productivity. By addressing any sleep deficits and making time to get the rest you need each night, your energy, efficiency, and overall health will improve. In fact, you’ll likely get much more done during the day than if you were skimping on shuteye and trying to work longer.


Signs that you’re not getting enough sleep…

If you’re getting less than eight hours of rest each night, chances are you’re sleep deprived. It’s likely you have no idea just how much lack of sleep is affecting you.

How is it possible to be sleep deprived without knowing it? Most of the signs of sleep deprivation are much more subtle than falling face first into your dinner plate. Furthermore, if you’ve made a habit of skimping on sleep, you may not even remember what it feels like to be truly wide-awake, fully alert, and firing on all cylinders. Maybe it feels “normal” to get sleepy when you’re in a boring meeting, struggling through the afternoon slump, or dozing off after dinner, but the truth is that it’s only “normal” if you’re sleep deprived.

You may be sleep deprived if you…

  • Need an alarm clock in order to wake up on time

  • Rely on the snooze button

  • Have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning

  • Feel sluggish in the afternoon

  • Get sleepy in meetings, lectures, or warm rooms

  • Get drowsy after heavy meals or when driving

  • Need to nap to get through the day

  • Fall asleep while watching TV or relaxing in the evening

  • Feel the need to sleep in on weekends

So, how many hours of sleep do we really need?

There is a big difference between the amount of sleep you can “get by on” and the amount you need to function optimally. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult sleeps less than seven hours per night. In today’s fast-paced society, six or seven hours of sleep may sound pretty good. In reality, though, it’s a recipe for chronic sleep deprivation.

Just because you’re able to operate on six or seven hours of sleep doesn’t mean you wouldn’t feel a lot better and get more done if you spent an extra hour or two in bed.

While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need even more. Despite the notion that our sleep needs decrease with age, most older people still need at least 7 hours of sleep. Since older adults often have trouble sleeping this long at night, daytime naps can help fill in the gap.

The best way to figure out if you’re meeting your sleep needs is to evaluate how you feel as you go about your day. If you’re logging enough sleep hours, you’ll feel energetic and alert all day long, from the moment you wake up until your regular bedtime. When was the last time you felt energetic and alert all day long?