July 23, 2014 at 7:06 AM ET
For years, we’ve heard that we need a solid eight hours of sleep. And, for years, we’ve heard that we’re terrible at getting it. Well, what we’ve heard might be wrong. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is funding a panel to evaluate sleep research to make new recommendations for sleep and it might mean that less sleep is more.
“People know that too much sleep is no good, too little sleep is no good … just like food,” says Dr. Christopher Winter, a sleep medicine expert at Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine in Virginia. “What’s important about this … [is to] stop getting hung up on eight hours.”
People who sleep between 6.5 and 7.4 hours had lower mortality rates, according to a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2002. A 2011 study of 450 elderly women found that those who slept less than four hours but more than 6.5 had a higher mortality.
“It is great to look at [sleep research], but association doesn’t mean causation,” Winter says, adding, "This should liberate [us from] the idea of eight hours of sleep. It is the process of letting go of this expectation.”
Eight has been touted as the magic number, but that's based more on conventional wisdom than science, NBC's chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman said Wednesday. Seven hours may be the "sweet spot" for some of us.
But only you, as an individual, can know how much sleep you need. Be your own sleep expert, Snyderman advised. "That means unplugging, getting the TV out of your bedroom, not doing emails 15 minutes beforehand," she told Matt Lauer.
Sleep problems occur at the extremes. "If you get too little," Snyderman said, your stress chemicals go up, which makes you crave fat and carbs. You put on weight and you put your heart at risk."
On the other end, "it doesn't happen often, but for people who sleep too much, it's been associated with diabetes and depression."
Even after nailing down the proper amount of sleep and the ideal sleep temperature of between 60-68 degrees, a good night’s rest remains elusive to many. Recent studies have found that interrupted sleep is as bad as a sleepless night.
And if you really want a great night's sleep? And while he may be cuddly, the one thing you shouldn't have in your bed is your pooch. Studies show that pets snoozing on the bed causes fitful sleep. On a positive note, carbs might help people retrain their circadian rhythms, helping us catch those z's—no matter how many hours we need.
If eight keeps people spry and happy, he says, by all means, sleep longer, but if seven is the sweet spot, stop trying to force it.
Also, that doesn't apply to kids and teenagers, who need more sleep, a full eight to 10 hours a night.