Depending on how much we get, sleep can either be our best friend or our worst enemy. A good night’s sleep can make us feel refreshed and rejuvenated, while a bad night’s sleep can leave us feeling moody and groggy. So exactly how much rest is needed to call it a good night’s sleep?
This week on Take Care, Dr. Orfeu Buxton discusses sleep deprivation. Buxton is assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, associate neuroscientist in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and associate professor at Pennsylvania State University. He participated in a recent Q&A on sleep featured in the New York Times.
Click 'Read More' to hear our interview with Dr. Buxton.
Buxton says sleep is vital to good health. “Sleep is a tremendous source of restoration; a time for growth and repair, and also one of psychological and physiologic resilience. It allows us to recover, and it allows us to be ready for the next day,” he says.
In order to get full restoration, an adequate amount of sleep is needed. Exactly how many of hours of sleep is considered enough, though, is not always clear.
“Sleep is very individual. Different people need different amounts,” says Buxton.
To discover how much sleep is enough, Buxton recommends finding “your number.”
“If you pay off your sleep debt and get plenty of extra sleep for a few weeks, you’ll arrive at a number that’s about how much you’ll need. You can tell if you’re getting enough sleep by going to sleep and getting up at about the same time each day without an alarm clock, and if you feel refreshed, that’s enough sleep for you,” he says.
Not hitting that number of hours on a consistent basis can lead to both short- and long-term consequences. Short-term consequences of not getting enough sleep includes mood swings, difficulty concentrating, attenuated memory formation, lower energy levels, and an increased appetite for unhealthy foods.
Long term consequences of sleep deficiency can be much more serious. These include hormonal imbalance, degraded cognitive performance, immune system suppression and altered metabolism that can increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.
On top of that, extended sleep deficiency causes an increase in perceived pain, such as hot and cold sensations. “I’ve long described the sensation of being sleep deprived as directly painful. It is painful to not get enough sleep by a large amount,” says Buxton.
It is common for people to try to “catch up” on sleep on the weekends. According to Buxton, this only works to a certain extent, especially if this becomes a habit.
“Another way to think of it is if you want to manage your weight, would you say ‘well I don’t want to get more than ten or fifteen pounds over the weight I want to be and then I’ll just lose it.’ That doesn’t ring as a very solid strategy to most people, and I think the same idea would work for sleep,” he says.
His advice—“Try not to dig too deep a hole.”