Does more sleep = better health?

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If you’ve ever been given health advice by a doctor, or browsed for health advice online, then you will be familiar with how frequently sleep is described as a “cure all”. If you’re feeling rundown, you should sleep. If you’re feeling anxious, you should sleep. If you’re in pain, you should sleep… the list of conditions for which sleep is described as a remedy is incredibly long.

As a result of this constant discussion of sleep as nothing but beneficial, it’s natural to wonder if more sleep will always equal improved health. In an effort to provide some clarity we’ll dig into the idea that “more sleep = better health”, and see if there is any truth behind this statement.

The optimal amount of sleep

Before we discuss the potential benefits of “more” sleep, we need to discuss what might be considered enough sleep.

There is some debate on what is considered to be enough sleep for each individual person. There is a school of thought that suggests that everyone should get between seven and eight hours of sleep per night. For the most part, we Brits are pretty good at doing just that: the national average is just over seven hours per night.

However, seven to eight hours might not actually be the optimal level of sleep for some people. For example, a gene has been discovered that exists in people who only need around six hours sleep per night.

So, the reality is that there is no amount of sleep that can be universally agreed to be right for everyone. We’re all different, and some people can function just fine on six hours sleep, while others need a little longer.

Is more always going to be better?

There’s an important lesson to learn from this discussion of the optimal amount of sleep, and that’s a simple reality that sleep is subjective. Could more sleep mean better health for some people? Sure. And could more sleep have negative health consequences for some people? Probably.

The latter may surprise you. We’ve all come to associate sleep as nothing but positive, so how could it possibly be bad for you to sleep more?

Well, the science says it is. If you oversleep on a regular basis, then you may be more likely to suffer a number of health problems, including:

So no, more sleep doesn’t always equal better health. Ultimately, when it comes to sleep, it’s a simple matter of trying to achieve quality over quantity.

The benefits of high-quality sleep

If you achieve good quality sleep, you’ll enjoy a myriad range of health benefits. These include:

  • Improved cognitive performance

  • Lower stress levels

  • Easier weight management

  • A stronger immune system

  • Better rates of healing

This list is just the tip of the iceberg, too. The importance of good quality sleep for health cannot be underestimated; it’s a vital component, an essential, and something you should take action to maximise wherever possible.

How to achieve high-quality sleep

So, we know that you need to focus less on the quantity of your sleep and more on how high a quality that sleep is. Here are a few ideas that can help you achieve high-quality sleep:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps to regulate your circadian rhythm and allows for a better quality of sleep throughout the week.

  • Make sure you’re comfortable when you’re sleeping. Invest in high-quality bed linen, a good mattress, and a pillow that is sufficiently supportive of your neck and back.

  • Keep your bedroom as dark and cool as possible. This should help you fall - and stay - asleep.

  • If you can, wear a sleep mask during the night, as this will stop you being disturbed by sudden bright lights.

  • Don’t use a conventional alarm, as these can jolt you from the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep— and that means you’ll feel groggy all day. Instead, use an alarm that can wake you during your natural sleep cycle; there is an app that can help to ascertain the optimal time for you to wake each day, which helps to ensure you’re never woken during the REM phase of sleep. If you struggle with daytime tiredness, it’s well worth giving an app a go and seeing if it makes a difference for you.

  • Exercise during the day to ensure you are sufficiently tired to sleep at night.

  • Don’t eat for two hours before you go to bed.

In conclusion

While more sleep doesn’t necessarily equal better health, better quality sleep most definitely does.