Dear Lucy: What is the minimum sleep a body needs? I have a problem waking up in the mornings and am trying to figure out how to handle it. —Sleepyhead
Dear Sleepyhead: The minimum amount of sleep required… That’s the perennial MIT question, and Lucy knew exactly what to do with it — take it to Zan Barry, a program manager within Community Wellness and MIT Medical’s resident sleep guru.
“The quick answer, from the National Sleep Foundation, is that the average adult requires between seven and nine hours of sleep a night,” Barry answers. On the other hand, she cautions, “You are not average. You are you.”
And while scientific consensus is that fewer than seven hours is inadequate — and associated with a host of health concerns, ranging from cardiac problems and immune system deficiencies to obesity — it's also the case that some individuals may need significantly more than seven hours. “I’ve read that Einstein was religious about getting 10–12 hours of sleep every night,” Barry says. “And people who do hard math tell me that they just can’t process as well with anything less than eight.”
That said, she notes that there is a very small chance you are one of those unusual individuals with a rare genetic mutation that allows you to function well with fewer than six hours of sleep per night.
But probably not.
Lucy’s no sleep expert, but she can tell you that if you’re not waking up refreshed and are struggling to wake up every morning, you need either more sleep or better sleep. Possibly both. “Better quality sleep occurs with a very regular schedule,” Barry notes, “so if you are looking for high-quality, restorative sleep, a regular sleep-wake schedule is your best friend.”
MIT Medical provides a host of online sleep resources, including a podcast where you can hear Barry discuss tips and techniques for getting more sleep and making sure that the sleep you get is the best sleep possible. Here’s to restful nights and bright, cheery mornings! —Lucy