June 4, 2017

Can Some People Get by on Less Sleep?

Here’s the bottom line: you will do better with 7 to 8 hours of sleep than with 4 to 5 hours

Peter N. Landless & Zeno L. Charles-Marcel

My wife says I need to sleep more, but I’m fine with 4 to 4.5 hours of sleep per night. That gives me more time every day. It’s not like I’m always sick or anything. I’m a 37-year-old, reasonably healthy, a little overweight, and a father of two. I played football in college. Help me convince my dear wife . . . please!

We assume from your question that rather than having a medical sleep disorder you choose to extend your day to “optimize your time.” We also assume that this is a long-term plan. Consistently getting healthful, restful sleep benefits the whole person; it promotes physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational health.

In a study of 1.1 million people who were followed for six years, the researcher took into consideration 32 different health risk behaviors to isolate their effects. The death rate was lowest for those who reported 6.5 to 7.4 hours of sleep per night on average.

Your sleep pattern would place you short of “optimal” and at increased risk. Reviewing multiple studies, self-reported shorter sleep time (i.e., six hours or less) was associated with overweight, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, strokes, mental stress, unhappiness, and depression. You would fall into the “at risk” category.

In an Internet-based study of users of the Luminosity.com Web site, user-reported sleep times were correlated with mental performance. All three measures of mental sharpness peaked in those users who reported seven hours of sleep. Furthermore, insufficient sleep is associated with mental and physical impairment, accidents, marital dissatisfaction, and decreased productivity. Do you see yourself in this picture?

For the record, and for your children, sleep need in humans starts off high at infancy (14-17 hours), declines to 9-11 hours in preteens, tapers off to 8-10 hours for teens, then stabilizes at 7-9 hours/night thereafter until we reach age 65 (7-8 hours). An important issue is that sleep lost is never fully restored, even if you oversleep to compensate. As a matter of fact, chronic “oversleeping” more than nine hours per night may increase your risk of poor health outcomes, much like too little sleep.

Here’s the bottom line: you will do better with 7 to 8 hours of sleep than with 4 to 5 hours, even though more than one third of U.S. residents report getting less than seven hours of sleep nightly.

We are told that in the celestial city there will be no night (Rev. 22:5). We will have glorified, spiritual, imperishable bodies and immortality (1 Cor. 15:42-54). Since we will be as the angels of God in heaven (Matt. 22:30), and our lowly bodies will be transformed to be like His glorious body (Phil. 3:20, 21), there may be no need for sleep. But while we are here on this earth, we must sleep to live; and optimal health favors optimal sleep.

Your wife is right on this one. Go ahead and thank her for her encouragement.

Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.