How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Many Americans don’t get enough rest — but our needs differ by age and other factors

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
5 min readJul 1, 2021

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Photo: Kinga Cichewicz/Unsplash

Gone are the glorious days of youth when a good, long sleep was the norm. For many of us, some serious self-care is now needed to ensure a sufficient snooze. Scientists have several sleep tricks up their sleeves, and I’ll get to those.

But first, let’s face it: If you’re a typical American, you probably don’t get enough shut-eye. Here’s the percentage of people who do not get enough sleep, according to the latest federal data:

Numbers don’t tell the whole story, though. Each person’s sleep needs vary significantly based on a few factors, including age and genetics. One thing we do know for sure is that too little sleep is really bad for you.

Why sleep is vital

While you sleep, your subconscious organizes and solidifies thoughts into long-term memories. Meanwhile, blood vessels surrounding your brain act like garbage collectors, clearing your dirty noggin of misshapen proteins and other junk that accumulates during the day and which, if left to build up at the curb of your brain, can clog the system and contribute to dementia.

If you deny your brain sufficient time to consolidate and tidy up at night, you put yourself at higher risk of the following:

“Healthy sleep is as important as proper nutrition and regular exercise for our health and well-being, and sleep is critical for performance and safety,” says Kannan Ramar, MD, president of the Academy of Sleep Medicine.

An overview of existing research summed it up in stark terms: Adults who sleep less than six hours a night are 13% more likely to die before their time, compared with those who sleep seven to nine hours.

How many hours?

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB