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Why is the 8-hour sleep a myth?

Many of us try to live by the mantra eight hours of work, eight hours of leisure, eight hours of rest. Conventional wisdom has long told us we need eight hours of sleep per day, but some swear they need more, and some (politicians, mostly) say they function fine on four or five.

So is the human brain wired to require eight hours, or is it different for everyone? We asked five experts if everyone needs eight hours of sleep per day.

Sleep is absolutely essential, and prolonged sleep deprivation has many detrimental effects on health and lifespan. This is because sleep achieves many critical brain and body maintenance functions that cannot be performed while we are awake. While humans need, on average, eight hours of sleep each night, the exact length of time it takes to accomplish these sleep functions is highly dictated by an individual’s genes.

Some individuals, short sleepers, only need seven hours while others, long sleepers, will need nine. Contrary to popular belief, it’s extremely rare for a person to require less than six hours of sleep per night, and those who make this claim about themselves are almost always chronically sleep deprived.

The exception to this rule is individuals with a genetic variant that allows the brain to function more efficiently on less than six hours of sleep, but this is extremely rare and very few people actually have this gene. So it’s best to allow your brain to dictate the amount of sleep it needs instead of believing you can get by on less than the average seven to nine hours.

Crystal Grant, sleep expert

Research has shown the amount of sleep needed to function at your best varies between individuals. Most adults between 18-64 years need seven to nine hours sleep per night.

One way to determine the amount of sleep that suits you is to pay close attention to how you feel (mood, energy levels, and overall health). If you are feeling sleepy during the day or needing an extra caffeine boost, you may need to increase the amount of sleep you are getting.

Importantly, do not push sleep to the bottom of your checklist. Make good quality sleep a priority.

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