Monday, July 18, 2011

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

It's well worth reading this 2011 New York Times article titled "How Little Sleep Can You Get Away With?"

I'm going to bottom line it for you here anyway, in case you don't read it, because I think what it's saying is so important.

This information comes from a four-year research project run by David Dinges, head of the Sleep and Chronobiology Laboratory at the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • The old accepted wisdom that getting only four or five hours of sleep doesn't affect cognitive abilities is just not true.
  • Almost everybody needs eight hours of sleep a night.
  • Even with just a decrease to seven hours, our ability to sustain attention goes down.
  • We don't adapt to getting less sleep. At best, we stabilize at a lower level of performance. Genetically, about 5% of us can perform at our best with five hours sleep. If you're not in that group, you can't learn to do it. If you think you are in that group, you should consider the next point carefully.
  • Study participants who were sleep deprived believed that they had adapted to the lack of sleep and that their performance was as good as ever, but studies showed their performance had actually gone down. They weren't able to evaluate themselves accurately. This is similar to our inability to accurately assess functioning after consuming alcohol. 
If your response to the above is, "Fine, but where do I get more time for sleep?" keep in mind that performing at our best means getting more done and making less mistakes. The tradeoff works.

If your response is, "I'm in bed for eight hours but I can't sleep!" consider neurofeedback. Improvements in sleep are often the first place my clients report change.

Questions or comments? Please post them here, or you are welcome to email me.

Catherine Boyer, MA, LCSW
New York Neurofeedback

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