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Underestimating sleep (9/13/11)

September 13, 2011

Do You Think You Sleep Better Than You Do?

Do you get enough sleep to feel rested, refreshed and regenerated each morning?  Much of the answer may lie in how much sleep you think you get each night.

Which is usually less than most believe.

College Sleep

The most recent data come from a study down at Brown and the University of Arizona by Kathryn Orzech.  She found the average college student was getting to bed between 12:21 and 12:44 AM, and getting up quiteearly.  Males were averaging 6.38 hours of sleep and females 6.69 hours . Subjectively they felt they got more.

How much sleep do you really get?

People Wake Up

Even “perfect” sleepers will wake up 15-20 times a night.  Most of these arousals are too brief – seconds to a few minutes – to be recalled.  That’s one reason some researchers feel sleeping pills “work” – they make people forget these brief awakenings.

But college students were woken by many other factors – dorm room noise, socializing, the Internet.  Many text through the night.

Does that mean they sleep all through the night?  Of course not.

Even many “perfect” sleepers may have a sleep efficiency – time asleep divided by time in bed – of 95%.

So knock off at least twenty minutes of sleep time for their unremembered awakenings.  Add in texting at night, bathroom breaks, occasional phone calls.

The kids are perhaps getting six hours of sleep a night – or less.

Is Six Hours of Sleep Enough?

No – especially for adolescents.   In order to think, learn, control weight and function properly, adolescents on average may need 9-9.5 hours of sleep a night.  Six hours will certainly not prove enough for full function – even while attempting some recovery sleep over  the weekend.

And if studies of infectious colds mean anything, too little sleep makes the kids  more prone to infections – and spreading them around.

Adults seem to need about 7-9 hours of sleep a night (there are some exceptions) – and perhaps less with age.  Adolescents, still growing their frontal lobes and other brain parts,  seem to require more rest to regrow.

What Can Be Done To Change This?

Plenty.  On college campuses, campaigns similar to those done for sexual diseases and smoking should work.

Orzech tried just that approach.  Posters and a “snooze-letter” have helped a lot of students to sleep better – 90% claimed they improved.

But old habits die hard – or just come back.  When I was teaching at Brown at the height of the worldwide AIDS epidemic, the university hired  a “sex dean”.  Her entire job was to teach students about sexual practices and sexually transmitted diseases.  Information was everywhere.  Lectures occurred most nights.  Students were given free condoms.  AIDS, hepatitis, gonorrhea and syphilis and what to do to prevent them was placed before students night and day.

Later reports in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that about half the Brown students used safe sex practices – when the knowledge and capacity to use them was ubiquitous.

For adults, such campaigns will necessarily prove different.  The simplest act is to ask people one question – how does your body regenerate?  Most of your body is gone in 3-4 weeks. Much of  that replacement and regeneration occurs in sleep. Sleep is like food – necessary for life.

It’s also necessary for productivity, general healthiness, and overall mood. And that message is not getting out as it should.

Under and Over-Estimation

Time rules life, but our subjective sense of time is strong.  If something is fun, it takes less time. If it’s boring, it takes longer.

For most people rest is not exciting – until they recognize the power of active rest.

There is a great tendency for people to overestimate the time they actually do sleep.  Many feel their time in bed is their time asleep.

Were it were so.

The sad end result – the population gets even less sleep than it thinks it gets.

The implications are all there – for a fatter population, a more tired population, a population unable to work as well as they might – thus the recent estimate of insomnia costing the economy $63 billion a year through decreased productivity.

Your computer may not need to rest, but you do.  Do it intelligently – and sufficiently – and your life can become enjoyable.

And you’ll feel rested – and more at peace.
Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

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