If you think you’e a good sleeper because you spend eight hours in bed every night, think again.
Now, sleep researchers are saying that we need to get eight-and-a-half hours of rest every night because we are so stressed out.
We still don’t really know why we need sleep – but we know that not getting enough will leave our brains foggy the next day, and raise our risks of many diseases and even early death down the line.
Pennsylvania State University professor, study author and sleep expert Dr Daniel Gartenberg explains why eight hours is just not enough.
Sleep experts are now suggesting we go to bed early enough to get 8.5 hours of sleep, adding that we need more rest in the modern world where we process huge volumes of information
The World Health Organization, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health all recommend that adults get at least seven and preferably eight hours of sleep a night.
But there are murmurs among the sleep scientific community that the night needs to be stretched to 8.5 hours, according to Dr Gartenberg.
This push for longer sleep hours has two components: building in a buffer for the process of falling asleep and waking up, and accounting for the many people who likely do need more sleep time naturally.
Plus, the modern world may give us reason to sleep more.
‘If anything, I think we need more sleep now because we are bombarded with so much information,’ says Dr Gartenberg.
‘One of the main functions of sleep is to take all the information we get throughout the day and sort into what’s relevant.’
This process, called synaptic homeostasis, is the focus of much of Dr Gartenberg’s research.
‘It’s the idea that one of the main functions of sleep – besides cell recovery – is to process information,’ he says.
Now, we’re taking in more information than ever – about 34 GB a day – but short-changing that processing period as compared to the 1940s, when polls who Americans got an average of eight hours of sleep a night.
These days, it’s closer to seven.
‘The very fact that people used to sleep that much suggests that we need to sleep that much,’ says Dr Gartenberg.
Even when we go to bed early enough to get the recommended amount of rest, we typically don’t sleep that whole time, spending some of it trying to sleep and often waking up at some point in the night – even when we don’t realize it.
‘In our lab, we play hospital noises at people at like 70 decibels. Their brains wake up but they’ll go right back to sleep and have no recollection of it,’ Dr Gartenberg.
This is ‘normal’ for many people, he says, and as long as you sleep 90 percent of those hours, it’s still considered a ‘healthy’ night’s sleep, but it is not necessarily optimal.
‘At the end of the day, there’s not just the right amount of sleep, there is also getting the right quality of sleep,’ Dr Gartenberg says.
Light from screens – especially our ever-present smartphones – is in part to blame for sleeplessness in America, but we may be able to leverage them for better, too, he says, and works on projects that aim to do just that.
‘Technological devices are hurting us, but we are also coming to a point where some of these wearable techs can be used to accurately measure sleep completely non-invasively and [those can be] integrated into smart home environments to create what we call “sleep habitats,”‘ says Dr Gartenberg.
He and his research team are starting that process with the ‘low hanging fruits: disruptive sounds.’
Noises as common and subtle as an air conditioning unit kicking on have awoken subjects in his sleep labs due to their abruptness.
His labs simulate hospital environments, where ‘we’re expecting people to heal while exposing them to these ridiculous sounds, while they’re trying to recover, and sleep is key to that.’
Dr Gartenberg’s solution is an app called Sonic Sleep, which uses ‘pink noise’ to ’round out other sounds’ and prevent them from waking you in the night.
This fits into one of four components of cognitive behavioral therapy for sleep that he says is the recommended treatment for restless nights.
Noise falls under stimulation control. The practice also involves ‘sleep hygiene’ – things like keeping cell phones out of the bedroom – cognitive training – undoing links between the bed and bad thoughts – and relaxation control.
These techniques are more important now than ever for many people who are getting too little sleep, Dr Gartenberg says.
‘It’s like a bell curve: there is probably like 30 percent of the population that needs eight hours of sleep and to get that eight hours you really need more than eight hours in bed. Probably around 95 percent of people need between seven and 8.5 hours,’ he adds.
‘With cell phones and social media, our brains are always a little on; our fight or flight response is always just a little bit activated, so there’s this low level anxiety that you may not even notice, but it’s there and you have to train yourself out of it.’