How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need to Study Effectively?

Ever wonder how many hours of sleep you need to perform at your best? The deep stages of sleep — NREM and REM — are important for cognitive abilities such as memory and problem solving.  And magnesium — a vital mineral we need in our bodies — may improve overall sleep quality, as well as brain performance, memory, and problem solving.

dog sleeping on stairs
Photo by Mor via Flickr

Even though one-third of our lives are made up of sleep, most research still points to the question of why we sleep. Fortunately, a new study conducted at the University of Rochester actually made an impression in the scientific community because it was the first to find one of the reasons we sleep. Starting in the seventh month of birth, premature babies sleep 80% of the time, 20% more than babies not born prematurely. Why is this? The baby is likely catching up on brain and body development that it missed in the womb.

In addition, a Harvard research study showed that sleep may help with improving recent memory in the hippocampus, a region in the brain known for long-term memory. Adequate sleep is very important, and REM and NREM (which I’ll explain in a second) are two important tools in determining your mental development and learning capacity the following day.

What is REM Sleep?

REM stands for rapid eye movement, and this is the fifth stage of sleep. We tend to go into REM sleep more frequently and deeply as the morning approaches. Interestingly, the body behaves as if it were awake during REM sleep — typically, the brain produces the same beta waves as it does when we are awake, and demonstrates psychological, physiological and biochemical activity.

REM sleep also involves theta waves. These work in the hippocampal region to improve short-term memory processes. In REM, you also experience dreams.

What is NREM?

NREM stands for non-rapid eye movement. There are several phases of NREM, but the final stages (known as stages 3 and 4) are the most important when you sleep.  You reach this stage of sleep about an hour after you fall asleep. During stage 3 of NREM, growth hormone is released, and the body and brain restores, regenerates, and repairs organs and tissues. It is usually during stage 3 of NREM that it is the hardest to wake a person up.

Stage 4 of NREM sleep promotes the deepest restorative functions on the body and brain. So, sleep is needed for proper development of cognitive functions such as learning, memory, and concentration.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?

Different biological circadian rhythms, or sleep/wake cycles, can vary from person to person. Someone who sleeps five hours may be able to perform just as well as someone who sleeps for ten. It is important to find a balance without caffeine beverages. Otherwise, for every cup of coffee you consume, you need to drink twice the amount of water to stay hydrated.

And if you need more than one cup of coffee per day, chances are you aren’t receiving adequate rest. On average, it is important for you to receive at least seven hours of sleep per night.

What happens if you aren’t getting enough sleep?

Adults who receive less than seven hours of sleep may experience:

  • impaired memory
  • difficulty solving problems
  • trouble focusing
  • depression
  • weakened immune system
  • fatigue
  • increased pain

Sleep deprivation can affect hormones in our bodies such as dopamine, so it is possible that all of these symptoms may be from a lack of dopamine and proper functioning in the reward center of the brain (known as the “nucleus accumbens”), which is known to make us feel good.

Oh, and if you have children (which I know many Penn State World Campus students do), here are recommendations for them. Children who do not get proper rest, at least 9 hours, may:

  • become irritable, moody, or cranky
  • have a shorter attention span
  • have difficulties focusing, remembering, and solving problems

If You Have Trouble Going to Sleep, You May be Lacking Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the most powerful relaxation minerals used for improving sleep. It maintains production of hormones during the day such as serotonin (known for mood and appetite and regulating proper sleep cycles) and hormones that work at night, such as melatonin (which regulates sleep). Typically, you see hormonal production decreasing with age, but it’s actually associated with a person’s overall health, not their age.

In a study conducted in 2012, participants who took 500 mg of magnesium showed an increase in slow wave sleep in the brain, specifically delta waves, which are primarily found during stages 3 and 4 of NREM sleep. Results also showed a statistically greater length of sleep time, greater sleep efficiency, increased concentrations of magnesium serum present in the body, and increased levels of melatonin. Most importantly, there was a significant decrease in insomnia severity in all participants.

This shows that taking proper magnesium supplementation may have a direct effect on optimal functioning of your brain and body.

Again, aging is the biggest risk factor for depletion of magnesium levels, but it is overall health that determines this.

Magnesium Levels Are Also Related to Brain Performance

Magnesium’s not just beneficial for sleep, but it may also help improve brain function.

One of the latest studies showed that 68% of Americans are not consuming the recommended daily intake of magnesium, and 19% are not getting even half that amount.

Results from another study indicated that rats fed 604mg magnesium for a month have increased activity in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus (associating with learning and memory), and an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which means that magnesium levels may enhance cognitive functions.

Our body’s internal clock and circadian rhythm is maintained by something called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. And this suprachiasmatic nucleus relies on magnesium in the body.

Other Tips To Help You Sleep

  1. Raising your blood pressure slightly helps induce sleep. Long, strenuous workouts, like a 30- to 60-minute run, might increase your blood pressure too much and can do the opposite.
  2. Avoid sugars before it gets too close to your normal bedtime.
  3. Try not to consume caffeine close to your bedtime, as it takes up to six hours for your body to eliminate half a cup of coffee, and coffee can increase the number of times you awaken during the night and lower the total amount of sleep time.

What Other Recommendations Do You Have for Promoting Healthy Sleep?

Post your advice below.