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How much is too little and too much sleep?

The National Sleep Organisation has published new guidelines that tell us how much sleep we should be getting, according to our age.

It contains no surprises. Newborns need a whopping  14 to 17 hours a day while people aged 65 plus need just seven to eight hours. For the vast majority of adult life, from 18 up to 60, the recommended amount stays stable at seven to nine hours.

The Foundation does offer the warning that, in many societies, sleep deprivation is virtually an epidemic. While bringing up children is the age-old cause of it, modern day work pressures and round-the clock availability of multimedia entertainment take much of the blame for the growth of the  syndrome.

On the other hand, numerous studies state that people who regularly sleep longer than those recommended amounts have a mortality rate that is notably higher than average. Oversleeping is also associated with a high incidence of heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes. Worrying news for anyone who loves their sleep and plenty of it.

But there’s a chicken-and-egg question here: is it oversleeping that causes the problems, or is oversleeping only a symptom of a deeper malaise? It has been noted that it’s more prevalent among poorer socieconomic groups, who are more at risk of fatal illness as they can’t afford quality medical care and nutrition.

Oversleeping is also associated with obesity, which truly is developing into an epidemic at quite an alarming rate. Obesity is, moreover, a primary cause of obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that makes the sufferer stop breathing momentarily, anything up to 400 times a night, which means that they never get a truly refreshing sleep.

There are no definitive figures on the prevalence of OSA, but it is thought that less than 10% of sufferers get medical help for it, and countless numbers of people don’t even know they have it. So if you’re sleeping an awful lot but still feel tired, it’s something you should probably investigate.

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