In my opinion

Ana Veciana-Suarez: How much sleep do I really need? Or, 7 is the new 8

 
Hector Casanova / MCT

aveciana-suarez@miamiherald.com

Suddenly we’re all talking about sleep — how little we get, how badly we do it. When did something so natural, a simple act we usually take for granted, become such a problem?

I suspect there are a million answers to that question, each as unique as a fingerprint. Which may explain why several sleep studies in the past few weeks have made headline news, proving once again what we all know: We need our Zzzz’s, and many of us aren’t getting our recommended daily requirement.

First, a disclaimer: I am a good sleeper. Wait, let me correct that. Compared to my friends, who suffer through night sweats, insomnia and middle-of-the-night worries, I’m a great sleeper. In fact, I’m often the butt of good-natured jokes because all my friends have gleefully observed my passage into the Land of Sweet Slumber: drooping eyelids, nodding head, slacking jaw — and then abrupt quiet. This happens at late-hour-dinners, movie theaters, car rides, parties, anywhere and everywhere. I’m catatonic by 10 p.m. (The Hubby claims it’s 9:30 — but what does he know? He sometimes falls asleep before I do.)

I attribute this good fortune to my rigorous (some would say rigid) adherence to a sleep schedule. I’m up at 4:45 a.m. every morning and yes, that includes Saturday and Sunday. Even on vacation, when I want to sleep to, say, 6 a.m., I pop out of bed like a jack in the box ready to take on the day. I can’t help it. My internal body clock, adjusted long ago to the responsibility of young children, got stuck on "EARLY." Can’t seem to change it now. Just don’t ask me to do any financial calculations past 9 o’clock.

As I’ve grown older, my sleep has become slightly more erratic. Going to bed late, for example, doesn’t always translate into a later wake-up. I must also watch my fluid intake in the evenings so I’m not stumbling to the bathroom several times in the middle of the night. And if I have a bad night, as all of us are wont to do, I — and everyone around me — pay for it with an extra dose of irascibility.

For so many people I know, the blessing of a good night’s rest is as elusive as the loss of those last five stubborn pounds. How we sleep, and how much shut-eye we need, has become the new buzz-worthy topic for both researchers and news media. Experts are now saying that seven is the new eight. A six-year study of 1.1 million people by the University of California San Diego concluded this magic number guarantees better cognitive function and lower mortality rate.

Not every expert agrees, of course, pointing out that we’re all slaves to our genetic predispositions. (I suspect I come from a long line of peasants accustomed to waking before dawn to milk the cows and till the soil.) Some people can survive on five hours without surrendering to fumes and bad moods. I, on the other hand, can’t make it through the day on that nightly diet.

So come what may — teasing, barking dogs, loud music from partying neighbors — I’m sticking to my sleep schedule. As more devices keep us connected 24/7 to an increasingly hectic world, as blinking cursors and back-lit screens invade the intimacy of our inner sanctums, society would do well to follow the wise words of Benjamin Franklin: “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."

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