While it is a universal fact that sleep plays a crucial role in maintaining mental and physical well-being, the number of hours of sleep you require is debatable. While some wake up feeling fresh after barely five hours of sleep, others struggle to ward off sleepiness even after 9-10 or even more hours. According to sleep experts, sleep needs vary individually owing to sleep quality, patterns, activity, levels, personal circadian rhythms, and age.
“Sleep requirements change according to age, sleep quality, patterns, physical activities, and circadian rhythms. With age being the most dominant factor, the requirement decreases from 16-18 hours of sleep for newborns to 7-8 hours for adolescents. Changing from adult to old age, sleep requirements vary according to lifestyle, work profile, and diseases,” said Dr Yogesh A Gupta, MD (Medicine), Consultant Physician, Sterling Hospital.
Agreeing, Dr Minesh Mehta, Senior Physician and Critical Care Specialist, Shalby Multispeciality Hospitals, Ahmedabad added that ranging from newborn to the elderly, sleep requirement changes drastically. “However, with no standard prescription fitting all, individuals have subjective sleep requirements. One’s lifestyle with activity levels dictates the number of hours required. For example, athletes are advised to sleep more than normal people. An average adult requires 7-9 hours of sleep for a healthy sleep pattern. Anything below or above regularly is an indicator of poor health,” he explained.
Further, he added that certain lifestyle factors and routines also play a major role. “When the body lacks an adequate amount of sleep on a regular basis, it forms a sleep debt. Oversleeping is a compensatory effort to nullify the formed sleep debt. Feeling depressed and anxious can lead a person to excessive sleep. The inability to manage routines, leaving the body in a distressed physical state, also leads to oversleeping. Substance use like drugs and alcohol disrupts the circadian rhythms, leading to oversleeping. Medical conditions such as obesity, neurological disorders, and epilepsy can also be factors. Surprisingly, genetic factors also play a role in maintaining or disrupting healthy sleep cycles,” added Dr Mehta.
As such, the duration of sleep is completely subjective to individual health and circumstances. “An active person can possibly feel energetic even with 5-6 hours of sleep. On the other hand, people prescribed medication or suffering from diseases might not even cope with the same energy levels despite 9-10 hours of sleep. Custom tailored to the body’s requirements, sleep necessities decide energy levels accordingly,” emphasised Dr Gupta.
Now that it is established that sleep requirements vary, depending on various factors, it’s time to address another important question. Is it healthy to consistently sleep less than 5-6 hours or more than 9-10 hours?
Dr Viswesvaran Balasubramanian, Consultant, Interventional Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, Yashoda Hospitals, Hyderabad said, “If a person sleeps for 4 to 5 hours only and still feels fresh and energetic, then it is normal. Only when such a short duration of sleep is associated with impairment in health or day-to-day activities, it becomes pathological and requires evaluation. Also, sleeping over 9 to 10 hours is not proven to be healthy either.”
Dr Gupta, too, said that any person needing more than usual sleep must rule out the consideration of being unhealthy. “Recognising alerting symptoms along with oversleeping is important. If excessive sleep subtracts the health quotient and impacts your health negatively, then it becomes a matter of concern. Any visible symptoms of headache, irritability, drowsiness, or swelling on the face because of oversleeping need medical consultation at the earliest.”
This is because oversleeping is associated with a host of health impacts. “Oversleeping elevates multiple health risks, worsening medical conditions in the long term. Worsened inflammation, decreased immunity, and potential risk of chronic diseases are negative consequences. Elevated risk of diabetes, obesity, headaches and back pain are also some of the side effects. Severe health issues include an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Increased levels of stress is a by-product for oversleepers as well,” added Dr Mehta.
As such, what can you do to ensure that you sleep an adequate number of hours? “Alongside regular exercise and a healthy diet, getting enough sleep is crucial for maintaining both physical and mental health,” said Dr Sibasish Dey, Head, Medical Affairs, Asia, and Latin America, ResMed. He shared the following tips to improve your sleep cycle.
*Avoid sleeping too late on the weekends to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm and making it much harder to fall asleep during the week.
*Avoid taking long naps, especially after 4 o’clock. These could make it more difficult to fall asleep and cause oversleeping.
*Establishing a consistent sleep routine to prevent sleep debt and going to sleep simultaneously every day.
*Keeping a sleep diary to monitor one’s sleeping patterns and health.
*Establishing a night-time ritual and making sure the room is dark and quiet.