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Sleeping on a regular schedule is key to health benefits, researcher says

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So, Steve, a little personal, but did you get eight hours of sleep last night?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

What do you think? What do you think? I get up at 3 o'clock in the morning. No, I did not get eight hours of sleep last night. Anyway, that's what this job is like.

MARTIN: True. OK, well, don't worry. Duke University clinical psychologist Jessica Lunsford-Avery says people do not have to worry so much about the amount of sleep they get. Instead, the focus should be on a regular sleep routine.

JESSICA LUNSFORD-AVERY: If I go to bed around the same time every night, that's going to have health benefits for me - cognitive benefits, mental health benefits.

INSKEEP: Her research shows that people who get seven hours or even six hours of sleep can still lead happy, healthy lives as long as they get about the same amount of sleep every night. Lauren Whitehurst is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky who studies sleep and health and warns against worrying about the eight-hour golden rule.

LAUREN WHITEHURST: Your body is really good at getting what it needs and desires. And so maybe you only need seven hours of sleep. And getting that seven hours of sleep at a regular time every day is going to optimize your ability to function in the world.

MARTIN: There are a lot of factors that affect sleep, and a lot of people just can't hit that eight-hour standard.

WHITEHURST: Your sleep duration could be more dictated by your kid's daycare schedule. Or it might be more related to kind of your own personal parenting practices and what your routine looks like or your work schedule.

INSKEEP: So figure out your schedule and also figure out what kind of a person you are. You a night owl? You a morning lark? Either way, stick to a schedule.

LUNSFORD-AVERY: Regardless of whether you're more of a lark or more of an owl, if your patterns are consistent from day to day, then that increases the health benefits.

MARTIN: But you still need to get a decent amount of sleep. Three or four hours a night won't cut it. Here's Lauren Whitehurst again.

WHITEHURST: Your body cycles at night through a variety of different sleep stages. And if you're truncating your sleep and only getting about four hours, you're not going to get all of the sleep that you need.

INSKEEP: And you will lose out even more if you worry about your lack of sleep.

WHITEHURST: Stressing out about it is going to make either of those things more difficult.

MARTIN: Some advice to sleep on, whenever we actually get some sleep, Steve.

INSKEEP: I'm going to go take a nap.

MARTIN: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INSOMNIA")

FAITHLESS: (Singing) I can't get no sleep. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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