“How much sleep do we need per night?” I am asked this question at least once a day and sometimes more. I have recently started asking the patient, “What do you think we need?” I am often shocked by the number of hours that people are sleeping, or should I say staying awake. Some patients sleep 3 to 4 hours a night and think that is all that is necessary.

I recently saw an adult male patient for his obstructive sleep apnea. During the interview, he noted that he sleeps about 4 hours per night on average, although he is sleepy during the day. He likes to stay up late and playing video games or watching television. He doesn’t find this to be a problem, though he went so far as to tell me that he had a motor vehicle accident on a freeway at 70 mph due to drowsiness. He thought it was quite amusing that while he had to be cut from the wreckage of his totaled car, he was so tired he slept through the whole accident. A highway patrolman who happened to see the accident said that the driver never applied his brakes.

These stories are common: patients falling asleep at the wheel, having accidents at work, missing work, and being miserable because they are not getting enough sleep at night. According to one study, 38.6 million adults in the United States reported sleeping less than 6 hours per night in 1985, increasing to 70.1 million adults in 2012. These declines in sleep are attributed to increased demands at work, the use of electronic technology, and living a stressful lifestyle.

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The National Institutes of Health suggest that healthy adults should sleep between 7 to 8 hours per night to continue good health. Before the mass production of electronics, the average person slept about 9 hours per night.

Remind patients that sleep is important. Our bodies are repaired in sleep; if we don’t get enough rest, our bodies break down. There are higher incidences of depression and stress-related disorders in patients who don’t get enough sleep. Without adequate sleep, blood pressure can be higher, and diabetes can be harder to control.

I suggest you consider asking every patient how much sleep they are getting per night and encouraging them to get at least 7 to 8 hours per night for a healthy life.


  1. Ford ES, Cunningham TJ, Croft JB. Trends in self-reported sleep duration among US adults from 1985 to 2012. SLEEP. 2015;38(5):829– 832