8 Isn’t the Magic Number

PhotobucketInsomniacs and night owls rejoice! Researchers from the UC San Diego School of Medicine conducted a long term study to monitor the effects of sleep on longevity among women, and found that the women who had between 5 and 6.5 hours of sleep lived the longest. Whhhhhhhatttttt? (Insert Lil Jon voice)

For years, the common refrain has been that without 8 hours of sleep on a regular basis then you will be a wrinkly old broad that could keel over at any moment. Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic but really, I don’t know many women (or anyone for that matter) that get 8 hours of sleep every night especially here in NYC. Getting that magic number of zzzz’s has been identified as the key to youth and health, even if that is an unrealistic goal for many of us.

The study was initially conducted in between 1995 and 1999 to see the connections between sleep duration and mortality in 459 San Diego women ages 50-81, and researchers have revisited the study to see who was still alive. Of the original participants, they found 444 and of that 86 had died. But among the survivors, those women who slept between 5 and 6.5 hours had the highest survival rate. According to the lead researcher, Daniel F. Kripke, MD, “women who slept less than 5 hours or more than 6.5 hours were less likely to be alive at the 14-year follow-up.”

This is not to say that we need to be obsessive-compulsive about getting exactly 6 hours of sleep each night, or that if you sleep 7 hours your life will be dramatically cut short. But I agree with the researchers who assert that these findings can help women relax about the amount of sleep they are receiving. About 5 minutes before I found this article, I was watching a commercial for some pill guaranteed to give you 8 hours of restful sleep with some “doctor” talking about how you can’t make up for lost sleep by sleeping longer on the weekends. I started to stress out…which is not helping my longevity.

This is important for women because we are often multi-tasking: working one or more jobs, heading households, raising our children and others, being a caretaker for family and friends…the list goes on. Self-care often ends up being low on our list of priorities, and then we feel terrible that we aren’t taking care of ourselves. Worrying about how lack of sleep affecting our health can only have one result: making us sick.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted October 4, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    This is great news for older women (50 to 81), but it seems the jury is still out for younger women.

    But this is a little confusing for me—as we age, don’t we lose the chemicals that put us in deep sleep? So, for older women, getting 5 to 6.5 hours of sleep is quite natural?

  2. Posted October 4, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    We’ve got to keep in mind that this study focused on middle-aged and older women. As we age, our bodies tend to sleep less, whether because we need less or because we’re less able to sleep through the night (I believe the research is still inconclusive on this).

    Teenagers and young adult women still need 7-9 hours of sleep to keep our immune systems healthy and our brains operating at top capacity, according to all of the recent research I’ve seen. For most people under 40, consistently sleeping only 5 hours a night would have serious physical, emotional, and mental consequences. This study didn’t go back and ask the women how much they slept when they were younger!

  3. Posted October 4, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Since I’m not really a fan of our go-go-go culture, especially in the university, that treats sleep like a taboo, and where not sleeping enough or at all is the norm and is in fact championed and joked about, I’m not really that thrilled with the study.

    Sorry, but there’s something wrong when girls and women – almost always the ones expected to lead the 16-hour workday between work, cleaning, school, and family – are, as I was, actually made to feel lazy and guilty for wanting to get and for getting 8 hours of sleep.

    • Posted October 5, 2010 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      I actually agree with you completely. I feel that people – but especially women – talk about how little they sleep with PRIDE. It’s as if sleep is on the same level as food…the less you have, the more you are worth.

      • Posted October 6, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        That’s an interesting point, Lori and quite true. I know I’m caught up in workaholism. I don’t wear my sleep habits like a badge of honor but I also want to save myself the stress of worrying about how I’m going to get all sorts of things done and manage to get 8 hours in.

        Good points about older women as well. I looked at it as comforting like these older women have been getting less sleep so as young women we should be good to go. But that’s an assumption, we don’t know their habits when they were in their 20′s and 30′s.

        I think my larger issue is that we are being sold various products and sleeping aids which are often addictive. I think what ties everyone’s concerns together is that our American lifestyle does not prioritize on self-care at the risk of being unproductive.

        Thanks for the comments, it’s opened my eyes in how I can change my ideas of productivity and taking care of my body and mind!

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