Written by, Coach Vanessa Panella
About 7-8 hours. No this isn’t a myth. This is true, and has been proven to be true over and over and over...well you get the idea. And teenagers are actually hard wired to need more sleep and fall asleep later in the night. They typically need anywhere from 9-10 hours of sleep, and their hormone cycle has set them up to not release melatonin until later in the night than adults.
Sleep has 3 main cognitive benefits:
Getting the recommended hours of sleep has shown to improve basically everything that has to do with the brain. You probably think of memory as remembering important dates and events or simply remembering to grab your keys when you head out the door. All of those things are true. So, can getting enough sleep help someone who can never remember where they put their phone down last...Yes.
Sleep is essentially the “save” button on all our cognitive memory. If you’re old enough to remember when you actually had to save your progress on the computer by actually hitting the icon you know just how impressive it was to do that “just in case the power (or the internet) went out.” Otherwise, you would lose ALL of your progress on that term paper and your Super Mario play through.
This is important for more reasons that just remembering whether or not you left the lights on before you rushed off to work. The decrease in working memory with less than 6 hours of sleep starts at 40%. That’s the difference between passing a test and failing it, and now imagine that compounded over time. Sleep can also aid in preventing issues like dementia and Alzheimers from coming up later in life. Sleep is a long term and a compounding investment in your health AND IT’S FREE.
Improved Performance and Creativity
The good news is that sleep can improve performance and creativity when you do get 8 or more hours. They’ve actually measured why this happens. When we sleep we are processing the day at light speed. Those that worked on a specific skill and then got a full night's rest had a significant advantage over those that didn’t get enough sleep in just one night!
So if you just had a great session learning rope climb, you had better be getting to bed early that night. Because studies show that the next time you attempt that same skill after 8 hours of sleep you will do at least 20% better the second day. If you and another person did the same skill work, at the same amount of time during the week, but you got better sleep than them. You would learn the skill faster. Period.
Your chance of injury also goes down exponentially. Someone who gets 6 hours of sleep is 45% more likely to have an injury than someone with 8 hours of sleep. The chances of injury get lower the more sleep an athlete has.
If you’re frustrated that you are plateaued in your results in the gym. I highly recommend you take a look at your quality and quantity of sleep.
Sleep is literally the most underrated performance enhancing drug that no one is using. Again, sleep is free.
Improved Immune Response
I can still hear some of you now...”I’ve always gotten by in about 5-6 hours. My body’s used to it and has adapted.”
A simple way to think about this one.
A lack of sleep (>8hrs) is the equivalent of drunk driving. You might just feel like you have a mild buzz, but everyone else around you should be taking your keys, and getting you an Uber ride home. You are unable to identify the dip in your motor skills with a lack of sleep.
Your immune response decreases by a whopping 70% with 6 or less hours of sleep. And I’m not just talking about common illnesses. If you’re concerned about COVID or cancer development, sleep should be on your top priority list. Because your immune response is at its peak performance state when you consistently get that coveted 8 hours.
The number one thing that will help you with your sleep is regularity. Meaning that you should be going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Yes, this includes the weekends. Sorry weekend warriors, whether you’re trying to “catch up on sleep” or you cut loose and stay up late both are likely killing your sleep gainz. Routine and consistency will win this one out.
When it comes to sleep it’s also a matter of quality, as well as quantity. This means that you should be hitting REM sleep (also known as Dream Sleep). Things that will kill these sleep gainz are alcohol too close to bedtime or caffeine too late in the day. Alcohol might make you “sleep”, but it actively inhibits dream sleep. And caffeine isn’t fully metabolized and out of your system until about 5-6 hours after consuming. I personally try to not have caffeine after 2pm to make sure that I can get to sleep.
Other small things you can do are turning off at least half the lights in your house, no screens an hour before bed, and black out curtains if necessary.
I hope these tips helped. Good night and good luck!
If you want to know more about this subject, I got a lot of this information from the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker. I highly recommend it if you want deeper dives on everything in this blog.