How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

Sleep is the best meditation.
— Dalai Lama

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about sleep lately.

After another long day yesterday, I woke up feeling about as rested as Rodrigo Alves’ plastic surgeon this morning. And it got me to thinking: How much sleep do adults realistically need?

I know I just quoted Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “sleep faster” mantra the other day, but in truth, that, like so many other cute phrases, offers a simplistic view of a complex issue. Hey, I wish I didn’t have to sleep at all, but I know from past experience that I don’t think very well when I don’t get my Zs (my friends would probably tell you that I don’t think very well, period, but my friends are jerks).

Science seems to back up the idea that a good night’s sleep is crucial.

According to a recent UCLA study, lack of sleep impairs the brain’s neuron transmissions and can result in memory lapses and problems concentrating, similar to when one is drunk.

“We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” noted lead researcher Itzhak Fried. “This leads to cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”

Although the study was small — just 12 subjects — and, in some ways, biased (all of the participants had a history of seizures), the conclusion was that the brain’s neurons (essentially the body’s control center) acted more slowly and lost vigor with increased tiredness.

“We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity,” said researcher Yuval Nir. “Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly and fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”

This is very bad news to me. It looks like not only am I going to have to get more sleep, but I’m going to have to quit boozing all day as well! (I kid, I kid — I’m not giving up drinking.)

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(From www.sleepfoundation.org.)