Why do we sleep? How much sleep do we really need?

Nobody appreciates sleep as much as a college student. With that being said, no one sleeps less than a college student … OK, maybe a mom of a newborn baby. Point is, sleep in college is always like chasing someone you really like that plays hard to get. Personally speaking, the only time I am able to sleep the recommended 7-9 hours a night is on the weekends -given I don’t have dance practice that next morning.  I know very little about the human body, but I figure that has to be terrible for my overall physical and mental health. So for this blog post I figured I’ll find out just how important sleep is to human body, just how much sleep do we really need and am I going to die early because for the lack thereof?

What Does Science Say About Sleep? 

The American Sleep Association recommends 8 hours as the optimal amount of rest needed to prevent sleep deprivation. However, recent data received from National Institute of Health, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), and the Sleep Research Society indicate that the old recommendation of a solid 8 hour a night isn’t necessarily the case for everyone. Researchers are starting observe that the amount of sleep that a person requires depends on their circadian rhythm -your body’s internal clock. 

Author of Sleep for SuccessJames Maas, PhD, former professor and chair of psychology at Cornell University says the proper amount of sleep is defined as what is needed for an individual to remain awake, refreshed and focused without the aide of stimulants, such as coffee or energy drinks. He added that if you aren’t able to stay awake, alert and focused from solely the amount of sleep you received the night before then you are suffering from some form of sleep deprivation. So, literally meaning me, everyday in college. 

So How many hours of sleep do you need?

The National institute of health says that the average adult sleeps roughly 6 hours a night. And while this may seem like enough given how fast paced everything is in society today it is proven to be that most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night to function at their best. In fact researchers at the University of California, Sans Francisco discovered that only 3% of the worlds population has a gene that allows them to be able to do well on only 6 hours of sleep a night. Meaning that the rest of us, 97% of us, need that recommended 7.5-9 hour rest to be fully great.  With that said, the chart below indicates that the younger you are the more sleep you need to meet your full potential awake. 

Average Sleep Needs by Age

Newborn to 2 months old 12 – 18 hrs
3 months to 1 year old 14 – 15 hrs
1 to 3 years old 12 – 14 hrs
3 to 5 years old 11 – 13 hrs
5 to 12 years old 10 – 11 hrs
12 to 18 years old 8.5 – 10 hrs
Adults (18+) 7.5 – 9 hrs

“Sleep Health”

Sleep Health is a modern field of research dedicated to studying the effects sleep has on your body. I’ll share one of it’s four broad categories, “Science,” which serves as the nuts and bolts of what sleep does for parts of your body internally as well as describes what sleep deprivation can do to decrease their levels of efficiency:

  • The BRAIN:
    • Sleeping allows for cerebral spinal fluid to be pumped at a much higher/quicker rate than when you are awake. Your brain makes brain cells, the cerebral spinal fluid being pumped throughout the brain acts as sort of a ‘dishwasher’ ridding your body of the waste products created by these brain cells. Allowing you to wake up feeling refreshed and in sense, literally ‘clean’.
    • When sleep deprived your brain isn’t on it’s ‘A game, your mind slows down a lot;  you become forgetful and skills you may normally have when fully rested (good speaking capabilities, writing, etc.) are impaired slightly. Maas says there’s also sort of a reduction in your decision making capabilities due to your lack of focus.
    • Sleep deprivation effects your response time and messes with not only your form but your motor skills. Which explains while driving while sleepy is single handedly one of the hardest things one can do. Nothing works, rolling down the windows, blasting music, nothing but a good nights rest.
  • Your LUNGS
    • While awake breathing patterns tend to vary significantly. For example, physical exercise, fear, excitement speeds up breathing rate. While you are asleep however, your breathing rate is slowed and regulated.
  • Your HEART
    • Your heart works extremely hard during the day and during the Non-REM cycle part of sleep your heart gets a well deserved break. Sleeping allows your heart to be reduced as well as your blood pressure.
  • Your MUSCLES
    • The more you sleep, the more and better equipped your body is to repair itself. Growth hormones, that work to build and strengthen your muscles and joints are released while you sleep.
    • Cumulative sleep deprivation over time can lessen your body’s ability to fight off an infection. Josiane Broussard, PhD, researcher and assistant professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, found that sleep deprivation -more specifically one night of no sleep, was just a detrimental to a person as having a high fat diet. Meaning that pulling an all righter can result in insulin sensitivity, a key predictor of type-2 diabetes, just as much as six months on a high-fat diet. Which was SHOCKING for me to learn. 


I can give it to you 6 different ways, but no matter which way I put it, scientifically, psychologically speaking, SLEEP IS IMPORTANT. We all, myself included, are guilty of accumulating a large amount of Sleep Debt, and instead Just shaking it off, going “I’ll catch up on sleep this weekend.” But that is not how your body works; you can not make up for continuous sleep deprivation with one night of full rest. The science shows that there is a direct causation between the amount of sleep on gets and the productivity of their day and mind. I understand we are all in college and have busy, demanding school, work and social schedules, but it is rather imperative that we take care of ourselves if we have any hope of succeeding at any of these endeavors. 

6 thoughts on “Why do we sleep? How much sleep do we really need?

  1. dms6519

    Great post! I almost write on this topic but i choose sleep paralysis instead. I personally know that i tend to sleep over the time that i should (9 hours but i sleep for at least 10 each day). I can also tell from my body that it is no healthy because i get more sleepy by doing so and also feel tired all the time. Sometimes, i feel much more energize when i sleep for 6 hours which is indeed unusual. It’s a great thing that your article tells the details about all our organs and how having enough sleep would affect them.

  2. Sean Kyle Reilly

    Hey Stephanie!

    Sleep is absolutely important! However, one thing not touched upon is how people may be able to fall asleep, and stay asleep, easier. For example, when exposed to LED Lights or Screens (which make up television screens, computer screens, cell phone screens, and more) within an hour before trying to get some shut-eye can cause some changes in our body’s sleeping patterns and lead to an increase in some negative attributes – such as diabetes, obesity, some forms and cancer, and even heart disease (http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side).

    We are all guilty to some degree of browsing the web before bed, but if you find yourself having more issues sleeping at night – try to instead go directly to bed or read something like a book with a low light before dozing off at night.

    Great job with the very informative post though, and best of luck throughout the semester!

    (P.S. We should have won that game… Or at least tied it at the end. – Another Disappointed PSU Student)

    1. Stephanie Keyaka Post author

      Hi Sean,

      Thank you for sharing that, I agree. It is almost impossible for me to go to sleep if I am looking at my laptop. Sometimes I stupidly think, let me watch some Netflix before I go to sleep, then I 2 hours later I realize I am still watching Netflix.

      Regarding the football game: I know right! We worked so hard to come back. Trace choked in the 4th quarter, he should’ve just relied on Saquon Barkley, but you know, it happens. It was a great game, I just hate the idea of Pitt being able to have a leg up on us at anything (lol). But we’ll take it out on Temple next weekend, promise!

  3. Molly Mccarthy Tompson

    I LOVE to sleep, so I found this blog post both interesting and relatable. One of my closes friends at Penn State hardly sleeps. Ever. She sleeps for 3-4 hours per night, runs on 5-hour energy and Starbucks drinks, and actually physically gets sick very often. I always tell her it’s from consuming too much caffeine and not getting enough sleep, but she refuses to believe that her sleep patterns are to blame. I cannot function without a solid 7-8 hours of sleep, and if I get less, I NEED to take a mid-morning or afternoon nap. I thought it was interesting that you mentioned the effects that sleep deprivation have on motor skills. The other day, I stayed up entirely too late, and noticed that while I was taking notes in my math class, I was experiencing literal muscle spasms in my hand and getting random pen marks all over the page. Sleep deprivation has serious effects on all of us, and college students in general should probably put more effort into getting enough sleep.

  4. Emma G Schadler

    Great job on your post, your formatting was very good! It’s so difficult for students to be able to get the most beneficial amount of sleep for our bodies and minds. I only wish I could tell my younger self, who, according to the graph you presented, required around 10-11 hours of sleep, that I should sleep as long as I can while I still can. I wonder if there might be a correlation between people who didn’t sleep the required hours of night when they were younger and people who continue to lack the proper amount of sleep in college. Or perhaps people that didn’t sleep much in their youth learned the hard way how important sleep was when they fell asleep in class during high school. Of course, a confounding variable could be that some people have sleep disorders or mental issues that restricted their sleep time, rather than simply choosing to stay awake – that could probably be a whole sub-area of study in itself.

    1. Stephanie Keyaka Post author

      Hi Emma,

      Thank you, I’m glad you liked it. Those questions you posed are very important. When I was younger I feel like I received just as little sleep as I do now. So I am sort of accustomed to the sleep deprivation you know. Which is terrible. I have to definitely figure out a way to turn off my schedule and just take care of myself by getting enough sleep .

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