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The Shocking Truth About Sleep Deprivation

Think lack of sleep is no big deal? Here’s how it could be wreaking havoc on everything from your physique to your sex life.

How Much Sleep Do you Need to Get?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, most people need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. That being said, quality of sleep is a factor, as is genetics. “Individuals vary greatly in the amount of sleep they need,” Ackermann says. Most people need 7.5 to 8 hours a night. Some need 9 to 10, and a lucky few can get by on as little as 4 to 5 hours per night. However, Epstein warns that more people probably think they can get by on five hours a night than actually can.

Are you Getting Enough Sleep?
“If you’re waking up and are refreshed and ready for the day, I think that’s the best sign that you have had a good and sufficient night’s sleep,” Ackermann says. “If you feel tired during the day and have problems concentrating at work or school, this could be a sign you did not get enough rest.” Since people often underestimate the amount of sleep they need, Epstein suggests giving yourself a little test the next time you have some time off. “Next time you’re on vacation for a week, sleep as long as you can,” Epstein says. At first you will find that you sleep a lot—your body is playing catch-up. But by the end of the week, you’ll be waking up earlier and feeling alert. However long you sleep on the last night of your vacation is how much sleep you need.”

[See: 7 Reasons You're Not Sleeping]

Do Sleep Needs Change?
As newborns, we sleep almost all the time. As we progress through childhood, the amount of sleep we need drops off. There’s another bump during adolescence, when a lot of growth and development occurs during sleep, but after that, sleep needs pretty much stay the same. “We continue to need the same amount of sleep as we get older,” Epstein says. The only difference is that it gets harder for some people to get in a continuous block of sleep. “It can take longer to get the same amount of sleep.”

Taking Back the Night
If you have one or two nights without much sleep, it can actually take you more than a few good nights of sleep to catch up. A recent study demonstrated that following one night of sleep deprivation, the levels of granulocytes still had not returned to baseline levels after one night of recovery sleep. “Instead, an extended sleep period of 10 hours was required,” Ackermann says. This result suggests that it is not sufficient to gain merely the hours of sleep that have been missed by having a good night’s sleep. You may need some extra zzz’s. That doesn’t necessarily mean sleeping in until 10 a.m. “You don’t need to recover all your sleep in a single block,” Epstein says. If you’re having trouble sleeping at night, an afternoon siesta can help you catch up.

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