It’s easy to push back bedtime and skimp on sleep. We’ve all been there: a binge-worthy Netflix release, a little extra scroll time, or your bestie’s bachelorette. The good news? You can function on 5 hours of sleep, but that shouldn’t be your norm.
The bad news is that short sleepers are rare. For most of us, getting only 5 or 6 hours of sleep isn’t a good idea. Research shows that not getting enough sleep can affect your ability to communicate, solve problems, and recall information.
So unless you’re a magical sleep mutant, you need to get enough sleep or your body, health, and overall quality of life may suffer.
The specific amount of sleep needed varies from person to person. Your body may feel fully rested after 8 hours, while your partner may need a solid 10 hours.
But for adults in general, the National Sleep Foundation recommends getting 7 hours or more of sleep each night to fully recuperate from the day’s shenanigans.
Here’s a breakdown of the recommendations for each age group:
- adults 65 and up: 7 to 8 hours
- adults 26 to 64: 7 to 9 hours
- adults 18 to 25: 7 to 9 hours
- teens: 8 to 10 hours
- school-age children: 9 to 11 hours
- preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
- toddlers: 11 to 14 hours
- infants: 12 to 15 hours
- newborns: 14 to 17 hours
Exactly how much sleep you need depends on your circadian rhythm — the internal clock that tells you it’s time to fall asleep or wake up. Circadian rhythms depend on sleep chemicals, like melatonin, and environmental cues, like light and darkness.
If you’re sleep-deprived, you probably know it, because, well… *yawn*. According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, excessive daytime sleepiness or fatigue is a good indicator of sleep deprivation.
It’s one thing to hit your office Keurig for a 3 p.m. perk-up to get you through until quittin’ time. But if you fall asleep during meetings or tests or at the movie theater, consider yourself sleep-deprived.
Other symptoms of sleep deprivation include:
- inability to concentrate
- memory problems
- less physical strength
- decreased ability to fight off infections
- hallucinations (in extreme cases)
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should call your healthcare provider.
You might be a #adulting queen but still feel (and behave) like a large, cranky toddler if you’re running low on sleep. Here are some unpleasant side effects of not getting enough sleep:
- lack of motivation
- low sex drive
It can even have a negative effect on people’s perception of you. That face mask isn’t going to do much if you’re sleep-deprived.
Other physical side effects of sleep deprivation include:
- puffy eyes
- dark circles
- fine lines
If you think not getting enough sleep increases your brain farts — you know, those “oops!” moments you totally regret — you’re right!
Lack of sleep affects your cognitive performance — i.e., how well your brain is working. A 2007 analysis of sleep deprivation studies found that a lack of sleep can affect decision making, attention, and long-term memory.
Cognitive side effects include:
- delayed reaction times
- increased distractibility
- decreased energy
- decreased coordination
- poor decision making
- increased errors
These might seem like NBD, but consider how these side effects can affect public safety. While we often attribute events like car wrecks or train crashes to human error, researchers have warned that sleep deprivation and its side effects, such as decreased alertness, deserve a closer look.
While driver’s ed may be so 2000 and late, let us remind you that “drowsy driving” is hella dangerous. The CDC warns that in 2013, drowsy drivers caused 72,000 accidents and led to 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths. It’s serious stuff.
Sleep deprivation has repercussions for your health too. In a global sample of more than 10,000 people, researchers concluded that, in terms of brain function, getting less than 4 hours of sleep was the same as adding 8 years to your age.
Your immune system repairs itself while you sleep, and without enough sleep, your body can’t protect itself as well against illness.
Some serious health issues that can accompany lack of sleep are:
High blood pressure
Your blood pressure dips while you’re sleeping (this is called nocturnal dipping), and it’s good for your heart health. Likewise, habitually not sleeping enough is associated with high blood pressure, especially among middle-aged folks.
An analysis of 15 studies found that short sleep duration is linked to a greater risk of developing or dying from coronary heart disease or stroke.
A 2011 analysis of about 50 studies found a connection between getting less than 6 hours of sleep a night and increased obesity risk. This is because lack of sleep increases the body’s hunger hormone, ghrelin.
You’ve probably heard of cortisol, the stress hormone. One review of studies on sleep deprivation and the endocrine system (which is responsible for regulating your hormones) found that cortisol may be elevated when you don’t get enough sleep.
This could be the result of stress from not sleeping or from being extra zonked the next day.
A 2005 study of people over 50 found that those who slept less than 6 hours a night were more likely to have diabetes than those who slept 7 to 9 hours, although the two groups’ physical activity levels were the same.
A lack of sleep may change how the neurotransmitters in your brain work. In a 2008 study, rats who were allowed only 4 hours of sleep per day (poor rats!) had changes in neurotransmitter activity similar to those seen in human depression.
And rodents aren’t the only ones who get depressed: Research shows that medical residents who are sleep-deprived also have symptoms of depression.
If you’re living that zombie life, you aren’t alone: The CDC reports that one-third of American adults don’t get enough sleep regularly. The reasons vary, but some common causes include:
- Personal issues: We’ve all had some “ish” that’s kept us up at night, like relationship stress, caring for a new baby or a sick kid, or money woes.
- Shift work sleep disorder: Yup, it’s a thing. According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 10 percent of people who work night shifts or rotating shifts are believed to experience shift work disorder.
- Health issues: Persistent trouble falling asleep could be a symptom of an ongoing sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, or another medical condition.
- Prescription drugs: Some prescription drugs affect sleep. Talk to your healthcare provider about potential side effects of any medication you’re taking.
- Behaviorally induced ISS (insufficient sleep syndrome): Yes, Netflix bingeing has its own medical term. If you’re voluntarily giving up sleep to finish a season of “GBBO,” you could have behaviorally induced ISS, which is a form of daytime sleepiness.
Getting enough sleep has enormous benefits for your mental and physical health. Here’s what you can expect when you start sleeping more:
- Better mood: Sufficient sleep improves your overall mood (although you probably knew that already).
- Improved motor skills: Is klutziness a problem for you? A small 2002 study found that getting enough sleep increased participants’ motor speed by 20 percent without a decrease in accuracy.
- Better athletic performance: Research suggests that getting enough sleep and maintaining a sleep routine can have positive effects for elite athletes. Why not you too?
- More youthful-looking skin: Sleep deprivation messes with your skin barrier, aka the outermost layer of skin.
Winding down around bedtime will help you fall asleep faster and sleep better. These efforts to improve your sleep routine are sometimes called sleep hygiene.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends:
- trying some gentle yoga poses
- limiting your exposure to blue light from your phone, tablet, or laptop
- skipping caffeine and alcohol in the evening
- eating dinner earlier in the evening
- trying a natural sleep aid
- using a calming scent, like lavender or chamomile essential oil, in a diffuser
- using a white noise machine, a fan, calming music, or earplugs to regulate sound
- upgrading your mattress, bed, blanket, or pillow
- regulating your room temperature
- embracing the darkness by covering up any lights from electronics and investing in blackout curtains
Sleep is super important and affects every aspect of your health. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night. You don’t just want to survive — you want to thrive!
For most people, getting 5 to 6 hours isn’t enough. If you stay up late occasionally, you’ll be able to cope and function. Just don’t do it every night.
If you want to make good choices, communicate well, and plan like a boss, then you need to go the f**k to sleep.