How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Everyone is different, so everyone has different sleep needs. There are 2 ways to find out how much sleep you really need.

The first way is to go camping. Wake up and go to sleep when you feel like it. It’s on days 3–5 that you usually start waking up and going to bed when you actually need to, and you start getting the amount of sleep your body needs.

The other way is to simulate the camping scenario. It’s still important to do this when you have time off so that you are able to sleep without looking at the clock or having to be up at a certain time. When you wake up, get outside under the sun. You can use a happy light if you’re waking up pre-dawn. Spend the day keeping busy, do some exercise (nothing crazy or out of the norm), and then when the sun goes down, use as little light as possible. I use a string of fairy lights as my main light source after dark, with warm tones. It simulates about the amount of light that a small campfire would.

Keep a journal of when you’re going to sleep and waking up. On days 3–5 is when you will start to see your sleep needs take over. Once you have your number, which, if you’re like over 98% of the population, should be between 7.5 and 9.5 hours. That’s how much sleep you should need, barring illness, serious injury, or disability, for the rest of your life.

As to what happens when you don’t get the sleep you need, that’s a lot. I wrote an entire article about that here: What Happens When We Don’t Get the Sleep We Need?

Q&A: What are the effects of averaging 4 or less hours of sleep a day?

99% of human beings need between 7.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep to be healthy. Fewer than 1% need a little more or less. However, the fraction of that 1% that needs less sleep still needs at least 6 hours of sleep per night. You need the amount of sleep that you need, and there is no changing it without negative repercussions.

You can’t repay sleep debt at all, especially not over the long-term.[1] People who are regularly sleep deprived (that means less than your body needs) don’t function as well cognitively (it makes you dumb), body-wide inflammation, can cause obesity, causes a much higher risk of neurodegenerative diseases, cognitive decline, heart attacks, strokes, emotional and psychological problems, car accidents, cancer, diabetes, wrinkles, and many more negative effects.[2] It may also lead to DNA transcription errors.[3] People who sleep less than 6 hours a day are at least 4 times more likely to die of any cause than those who sleep more than 6. [4]

When you don’t sleep enough (a minimum of 6 hours), your brain cannot clean itself out.[5] The glymphatic system cleans the toxic chemicals out of your brain as you sleep (and it does its work best when you sleep on your left side). It changes the shape of the cells in your brain, allowing the unwanted waste to leave the brain. [6]

Besides waste elimination, the glymphatic system also facilitates brain-wide distribution of several compounds, including glucose, lipids, amino acids, growth factors, and neuromodulators. Intriguingly, the glymphatic system functions mainly during sleep and is largely disengaged during wakefulness. The biological need for sleep across all species may therefore reflect that the brain must enter a state of activity that enables elimination of potentially neurotoxic waste products, including β-amyloid (build-up of β-amyloid is linked to Alzheimer’s). [7]

And there are also things like muscle repair, memory consolidation, and release of hormones regulating growth and appetite that only happen during sleep.[8]

Sleep deprivation can cause your mental state to deteriorate, and if you go for years without sleeping well, you increase your risk for dementia and other neurological disorders. [9]

It has also been shown that people who are deprived of just one hour of sleep a night for a week are worse at basic tasks, including simple games and driving, than people who have a blood alcohol level of .08. [10]

New studies show that sleeping less than your body needs suppresses the immune system, which means you are far more likely to get sick. [11]

Many studies have been done on trying to change the amount of sleep you need. All the studies that were done using sound methodology and practices found that you cannot change how much sleep you need. You may be able to break it up into a couple of shorter periods (biphasic sleep), but you still need the same amount.

For more info on why, see my article here: What Happens When We Don’t Get the Sleep We Need?

Footnotes

[1] Uncovering Residual Effects of Chronic Sleep Loss on Human Performance

[2] Sleep Habits: More Important Than You Think

[3] http://www.smrv-journal.com/arti…

[4] Sleep Deprivation

[5] Brain may flush out toxins during sleep

[6] The Glymphatic System and How Metabolic Waste is Removed from the Brain

[7] The Glymphatic System: A Beginner’s Guide.

[8] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/…

[9] Human Sleep and Cognition

[10] Human Sleep and Cognition

[11] Sleep Deprivation Causes Suppression of Immune System, New Studies Report

Sleep Deprivation Suppresses Immune System in Both Short and Long-Term

Two studies are giving us a better idea of sleep’s role in keeping the immune system healthy. The first is a study in the journal Sleep showing that all those anecdotes about getting sick when someone has been sleep deprived aren’t just due to lack of sleep magnifying aches and pains.

Researchers took blood samples from 11 pairs of identical twins with different sleep patterns and discovered that the twin with shorter sleep duration had a depressed immune system, compared with his or her sibling.

“What we show is that the immune system functions best when it gets enough sleep. Seven or more hours of sleep is recommended for optimal health,” said lead author Dr. Nathaniel Watson, co-director of the UW Medicine Sleep Center at Harborview Medical Center.

A unique feature of this study was to employ identical twins in order to control for the large genetic determinant to humans’ sleep duration. Researchers say genetics account for 31 to 55 percent of sleep duration and behavior and environment account for the remainder.

The second is a study published recently in the American Journal of Physiology—Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology shows how important it is to get the proper amount of sleep every night.

Blood samples were taken from 14 healthy young men, average age 25, when they slept through the night and again when they stayed awake all night. The samples were analyzed for levels of T-cells, which are that are the foundation of the immune system.

When the participants got a full night’s , levels of all types of T-cells fell within three hours of falling asleep. But T-cell levels stayed high when the volunteers stayed awake all night.

The rapid fall in T-cell levels in the blood during sleep shows “that even one night without sleep affects the adaptive immune system,” study first author Luciana Besedovsky said in a journal news release. “This might be one reason why regular sleep is so important for general health.”

I See Shadow People

I know this may seem out there for some people, but I think I know why seeing shadow people, even when you’re ostensibly wide awake, has so much in common with sleep paralysis episodes.

I have seen them while awake 3 times now, and it’s a horrible, terrifying experience. I’m not counting the times I see them in the corner of my eye (but that definitely counts as far as the poll below is concerned). I’m talking about face to face, standing/sitting right in front of me, staring at me. Into me, really.

I have searched for an answer to why this happens since this first happened when I was 16. And I’m working on a write-up of my hypothesis, which really solidified when I saw a shadow person just a few hours ago. Everything just clicked.

I would like to know how many of you have seen shadow people. That way, I know whether or not it’s worth it to go into all the details, which would require more work. I’m willing to do it if it will help others.

So answer this quick poll and stay tuned for more info!

Brain Health Basics

Scientific American Custom Media recently asked experts which factors they view as most critical to caring for our brains today and optimizing their function long-term. The very first item on the list is sleep.

“Probably the most important issue is to get sufficient sleep,” says Randy Nelson, chair of the department of neuroscience at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Sleep is critical to maintain optimal cognitive performance, as well as mood. Too much or too little sleep does not support good brain health. Everyone has an optimal level of sleep. This can usually be determined when you’re on vacation and there are no clocks, stressors or other distractions. How much do you sleep by day three or four? This is likely your optimal level.”

He goes on to talk about the importance of good sleep hygiene (see our comprehensive sleep hygiene checklist here: Insomnia Insanity’s Sleep Hygiene Musts).

To read the full list, visit Scientific American’s article here.

What is Exploding Head Syndrome?

Imagine the sound of an explosion, a crack of thunder, or a very loud crash (of something falling over, car crash, or cymbals crashing). Now imagine that sound originating inside one’s own head.

There is no pain, it’s just sound. It can happen as you’re falling asleep, as you’re waking up, or as you are transitioning from one stage of sleep to another. I’ve had it wake me up many times. And although I know it’s probably just EHS, I always have to get up and look to make sure a truck didn’t hit the house, the cats didn’t manage to knock over a bookcase, or some other catastrophe.

It’s sometimes accompanied by a flash of light. That’s why thunder/lightning always comes to mind for me. I lived most of my life in Oklahoma (tornado alley), so I definitely got up when the flash of light happened with it to make sure there wasn’t a tornado watch/warning in the area.

There isn’t a lot of good scientific study on the topic, but some hypotheses about why it occurs, or what makes it more likely to occur, include sleep deprivation, migraines, seizures, stress and/or anxiety, issues with the brainstem, and shifts in the components of the middle ear among others.

Current estimates put sufferers at about 10% of the population. Women are more prone to it than men, and people over 50 are at higher risk as well.

Further reading:

Exploding Head Syndrome: A Mind-Blowing Sleep Disorder

How to Defuse Exploding-Head Syndrome

Exploding Head Syndrome

Exploding Head Syndrome – Overview and Facts

Prolonged Sleep May Demonstrate Dementia Risk

A Framingham heart study, published on Wednesday in the journal Neurology, has shown that people who consistently sleep more than 9 hours each night had double the risk of developing dementia in 10 years as compared to participants who slept for 9 hours or less. The study also found those who slept longer had smaller brain volumes.

However, researchers believe that the results show that excessive sleep may be a symptom rather than the cause of the brain changes that occur with dementia. Because of this, interventions to restrict sleep duration are unlikely to reduce the risk of dementia, and may even make things worse, since the glymphatic system needs the time to clear the brain of toxins that may contribute to dementia.

It’s clear that more research is needed, but if dementia runs in your family, and you find yourself sleeping longer than you used to, it is time to see your doctor.

Q&A: Scalp Tingling at Night

Q: About once a week, I get numbness and a tingling sensation in my scalp. It vanishes after sitting for 3–4 minutes, but it’s really affecting the quality of my sleep. What’s wrong with me?

A: I think you’re just experiencing paresthesia due to pressure on a nerve. In layman’s terms, your scalp is falling asleep because you’re resting your head in a way that it’s disrupting proper nerve function.

Try just making a note of what position you are in when you feel this happening, and do whatever you can to avoid sleeping in that position. Even just moving your head slightly could keep this from happening if it’s just your scalp falling asleep due to pressure.

Another thing that can help is to take a shower before bed, and spend some extra time to really massage your scalp. This works for people who have numbness and tingling when you go to bed, as well as those who suffer from Nocturnal Pruritis, AKA itchy scalp, when trying to sleep. Something about a warm shower seems to reset the nerves.

If it doesn’t seem to be due to sleeping in any particular position, then it could be the result of a virus, autoimmune disease, or another issue. However, since this only happens when you’re sleeping, I think the pressure angle is more likely unless it is happening at other times, but you only really notice it when you aren’t distracted by other things.

I would advise you to keep a pen and paper next to your bed, and jot down the date, time, and position you were in when this happened. Other than trying different sleep positions, you should also try another pillow.

I prefer firm pillows, but if I get one that’s too firm (some types of memory foam pillows), my scalp will fall asleep. Also make sure to jot down what pillow you’re using when this happens. You should probably see patterns emerging fairly quickly. Either way, make sure to take your notes into your next doctor’s appointment so that, if it doesn’t seem to be linked to your sleep position, or it’s happening more frequently than one would expect, the doctor will be able to find some clues in your notes.

Good luck! I hope things work out for you.

Can You Get Too Much Sleep?

As we’ve talked about before, sleeping too much can be just as bad for your health as not sleeping enough in the long-term. SciShow covered this pretty well, but I have a few issues with some of these studies. They didn’t first set a baseline of how much sleep each person needed beforehand, so saying that someone is sleeping too much based on an 8-hour baseline goes against what we know about sleep. Everyone is different, but we know that the sleep needs of 98% of people are between 7 and 9 (or 7.5 to 9.5 depending on who you ask) hours per night. So, for some people, sleeping 9 hours is not oversleeping. It’s just what they happen to need.

Like any spectrum, most people will fall somewhere in the middle, but you must keep in mind that there are many outliers. So not figuring out how much sleep each individual person in the study actually needs is a giant flaw in methodology.

With that in mind, here’s the recap of these studies:

Sources:
https://www.sleepassociation.org/2016…
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02…
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02…
https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releas…
http://www.aasmnet.org/articles.aspx?…
http://www.journalsleep.org/ViewAbstr…

Q&A: How much sleep do I need?

Many people ask me how much sleep they really need. And many people have heard that they should be getting 8 hours of sleep per night, but are worried because they only get 7, or because they always need closer to 9 to feel refreshed.

The reality is that everyone is different. There is no One Size Fits All number of hours that is optimal for everyone. 98% of the population of all humans needs somewhere between 7 and 9.5 hours of sleep. The remaining 2% need closer to 6 hours or closer to 10 hours. Any less than 6 or over 10 has serious consequences for health, both short term and long term. So, if you need 8 hours of sleep a night, you should make getting those 8 hours worth of sleep a night a priority.. Barring illness, a traumatic brain injury, or neurological disorder, that number should not change for your entire adult life.

If you don’t know how much sleep you need, there are some ways to figure it out. First, you should follow a good sleep hygiene checklist (like mine, which is here: Insomnia Insanity’s Sleep Hygiene Musts). That will help you make sure that you aren’t sabotaging your sleep calibration.

The first, and easiest, way is to go camping for 5 days. Stay active throughout the days, and go to sleep when you are sleepy. Keep a sleep journal during this time, and write down all the times you went to bed, how much sleep you got, and how you feel upon waking. Make adjustments as needed.

The second way simulates camping without having to leave the comfort of your home (and your bed). When you wake up, get sunlight first thing. Whether that’s going on a walk, or just checking email and catching up with the news while sitting on the porch. Stay active during the day. At sunset, use the least amount of light possible. I use a single strand of fairy lights after dark. Use apps with blue light filters on your phone, tablet, and computer after dark. Blue light can trick your brain into thinking it’s still daylight. Make sure you are lowering your thermostat at least 2 hours before bed to mimic the temperature drop outside. (See my sleep hygiene checklist for more info.) The body’s core temperature needs to drop by about 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep. Sleep when you’re tired. Write it all down.

When you are able to set a bed time, and wake without an alarm clock, feeling refreshed and ready to go, you know you’ve got your number.

What Does That Dream Mean?

I get a lot of questions about what dreams or elements of dreams mean. There isn’t one meaning that you can assign to specific dream elements. You and I could have the same dream, but they would mean different things to us because our brains are different, our experiences are different, we have different views, and we react differently in any given situation.

You are the person best equipped to answer this question. It’s your brain. We don’t definitively know why we dream, but we know that our brains clean themselves out and deliver nutrients while we sleep, we also know that memory consolidation happens during sleep. So dreams could just be random, or they could be the by-product of processing memory and assigning importance and emotion to those memories.

If any dream is bothering you, you should keep two journals. One before you go to bed, jotting down things that happened that day, how you’re feeling emotionally and physically, etc. Then keep a dream diary by your bed and write in it first thing in the morning, before you even get out of bed.

After awhile, you’ll probably see some patterns, and then you’ll be able to figure out what these things mean to your brain, if they mean anything at all. It may be that they mean nothing.

Keep It Cool for a Good Night’s Sleep

Some new studies have shown that body temperature is actually more important than light (or lack thereof) for initiating sleep. The body’s core temperature needs to drop by about 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit to initiate sleep.

Core body temperature is the temperature of our heat-producing core, which is the brain and abdominal cavity. As the ambient temperature drops, so too does our core temperature. It usually reaches the lowest level in the early morning hours, before awakening.

This is why taking a hot shower or bath before bed helps you sleep. The hot water brings the circulating blood to the surface of the body, which is one of the quickest ways to drop core body temperature.

“When you get out of the bath you cool down more quickly, which is what the body wants to do at bed time,” says James Horne, a neuroscience professor at Loughborough University in England. His research has found that young, healthy people have about 10% more slow-wave sleep when they take a warm bath before bedtime. He says soaking in water that is about 102 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes in the early evening will improve sleep.

Studies:

Have Sleep Paralysis? Here’s How You Can Help!

If you suffer SP episodes, then why not participate in some research on the subject? Lorna Allix, from University of Chester is conducting research on SP right now, and she needs your help. Here is what she says about her research so far:

To date we have had 268 full respondents which I’m sure will make an impact into the Sleep Paralysis literature (once analysed).

**The questionnaires will close on Monday 7th November 2016**

If you have not taken part, but would like to, you can click the links below:

Questionnaire 1: Online Sleep Paralysis Research – University of Chester

Questionnaire 2: Sleep Paralysis Research – University of Chester

These questionnaires will ask you about your SP experiences within the past two weeks. If you haven’t had SP in this time but would like to take part in future research you can sign up here – Future correspondence for Sleep Paralysis studies

As always, updates are available on http://lornaallix.com

Many thanks for your time and commitment to this research,

Lorna Allix

Psychology PhD student

University of Chester, UK.

Q&A: What’s the Difference Between Sleep Paralysis and Night Terrors?

Sleep paralysis and night terrors (AKA sleep terrors) are fundamentally different things. They generally begin at different ages, and they happen in different phases of sleep. We don’t understand the mechanisms for either very well, but we have a lot more research on sleep terrors than on sleep paralysis.

Sleep terrors happen during NREM sleep. They’re more prevalent in young children, who generally grow out of them by the time they’re teens, although some suffer from them into adulthood.

Further reading on sleep terrors:

My Story: What It’s Like To Be Terrified While Asleep

Sleepwalking and night terrors: psychopathological and psychophysiological correlates.

Sleep paralysis occurs in REM sleep. It can happen when falling asleep (especially in those that fall quickly into REM sleep, bypassing the NREM sleep that usually comes first) or while waking up. It generally begins around the ages of 14-16. Some people only experience 1 episode, others have episodes with varying rates for the rest of their lives. See What Causes Sleep Paralysis? for more information on what SP is.

We know that sleep deprivation, certain medications, sleeping on your back, and certain medical conditions (narcolepsy, etc.) can increase the risk of having an SP episode. We also know that certain medications can help some people who experience sleep paralysis frequently (they aren’t worth it if it happens less frequently than once a week), but we don’t have a cure that works for most people.

Studies are being done now, and we’re hopeful that we’ll learn a lot more about the causes, and thus develop treatments that can help sufferers.

Q&A: What causes sleep paralysis?

Q: What causes sleep paralysis? What are some ways of preventing it or dealing with it?

A: There are studies going on right now that you can take part in so that we can learn more about it. Information on how to participate (it’s all online, and doesn’t take long) is here: Have Sleep Paralysis? Here’s How You Can Help!

The research we have at this moment doesn’t fully explain it. We know what’s happening, but we don’t really understand why. It’s like knowing your dryer isn’t heating, but not understanding which component is faulty, and why it is failing to work.

During REM sleep, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is necessary for logical thought, switches off. This is why our REM dreams seem so real, and why dreams can be so weird without triggering our BS meter, which would cause us to wake up.

To prevent us from acting out our dreams, and potentially hurt ourselves, our brain has a brilliant solution: it makes us temporarily paralyzed.

REM is also the stage that most resembles wakefulness. Our blood pressure, heartbeat, and breathing quicken and our brain waves speed up, becoming virtually indistinguishable from wakefulness.

Sometimes, however, we actually do wake up while still in REM sleep. In a sense, we have a switch in the brain that flips between REM and wakefulness. And all it takes is a few neurochemicals to leave us stuck in this borderland between parallel realities—dreams and wakefulness.

As if being paralyzed and unable to speak when waking up isn’t chilling enough, our REM dreams spill over into waking consciousness. This state—medically referred to as “sleep paralysis accompanied by hypnopompic (while falling asleep) or hypnagogic (while waking up) hallucinations”—can best be described as a dream, or worse yet, a nightmare, coming alive before your eyes.

There is no cure, but there are ways to make it less likely to happen.

  • Follow a comprehensive sleep hygiene checklist, like the one I made here: Insomnia Insanity’s Sleep Hygiene Musts
  • Get the sleep you need. Sleep deprivation is a major trigger for SP. If you sleep well, and stick to a schedule that works for you, you are far less likely to have an episode.
  • Treat what you can. If you have insomnia or another sleep disorder that is causing you to lose sleep, you should seek treatment for that.
  • Don’t sleep on your back. 58% of reported episodes of sleep paralysis happen while in the supine position (lying on your back).
  • Avoid alcohol and heavy meals/snacks before bed. All of these can disrupt your sleep and can cause nightmares, which are both triggers for SP.

If you find yourself having an episode, there are some ways to try to get out of it.

  • “This isn’t real, it’s sleep paralysis.” Sometimes just realizing that you’re having an SP episode can make it stop.
  • Try to go back to sleep. If just realizing it’s SP isn’t working, try to go back to sleep. Sometimes it’s impossible (I certainly can’t do it), but others have success with this approach.
  • Change your breathing. Since you can’t move most of your body, one of the options to get your brain out of an episode is changing up your breathing. You can try calming, deliberate breaths, exhaling forcefully, or even things like coughing can help snap you out of it.
  • A little movement can go a long way. Blinking rapidly, wiggling fingers and toes, and other similar things can work to help you end an episode.

Follow these links for more information.

The Waterloo Episodic Sleep Paralysis Study

A twin and molecular genetics study of sleep paralysis and associated factors

Sleep Paralysis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

The Sleep Paralysis Project

Sleep Paralysis | List of High Impact Articles | PPts | Journals | Videos

The Neuroscience Of Sleep Paralysis Explains The Terrifying Experience Of Being Trapped In Your Body

Sleep Paralysis

September is Sleep Paralysis Month

I’ve gotten a lot of questions about sleep paralysis since starting the blog, and I’m going to answer all the most common questions, as well as a few I just found interesting to study.

If you have questions, leave them in the comments below, or you can send us questions elsewhere on the internet. Use the hashtag #sleepparalysis

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/insomniainsanity/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/InsomniaInsnity

Tumblr: http://insomniasanity.tumblr.com/

I’m also going to put together a survey for you guys to fill out so I can cover topics that concern you, or things you’d just like to know more about. Check back later for that.

Restless Leg Syndrome May Signal Cardiovascular & Cerebrovascular Risks

A new study in the journal Sleep suggests that patients with restless legs syndrome (RLS) may be at increased risk for hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. Cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) is a known risk factor for clinical stroke. This study evaluated silent cerebral SVD by MRI in patients with RLS who had no history of stroke or known stroke risk factors.

They examined patients with RLS in two groups: those with RLS less than 10 years, and those with RLS for more than 10 years. They also had a control group of subjects with no RLS.

The results were striking. Those with  long-lasting RLS and its accompanying periodic limb movements in sleep are at significant risk for silent SVD and perhaps for the development of clinical stroke.

The term cerebral small vessel disease refers to a group of pathological processes that affect the small blood vessels of the brain. Cerebral small vessel disease is most commonly related to aging and hypertension, and can lead to vascular dementia.

Common symptoms of SVD are anxious mood, insomnia, fatigue, depressed mood, and pain.

If you’ve had RLS for more than a year, it’s time to talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have regarding SVD, especially if you have had RLS for several years.