There never seem to be enough hours in the day to take care of what we need to do (and maybe squeeze in an episode of Game of Thrones), and so a reader writing into the New York Times' Ask Well blog poses a question we've all likely pondered: Can we train our bodies to get by on less sleep? Dr. Sigrid Veasey, a sleep professor at U of Penn's Perelman School of Medicine, cuts to the chase: no, not really. Part of this reason is that humans simply need a certain amount of sleep to function properly, per the Sleep Foundation: Last year, the group published a study in Sleep Health that spells out the average amount people need: For most adults, seven to nine hours seems to be the sweet spot. The problem comes, Veasey notes, when sleep deprivation clouds our brains and makes us think we're doing OK after sleeping four hours at a time for weeks on end.
"The more you deprive yourself of sleep over long periods of time, the less accurate you are of judging your own sleep perception," she says. And lack of sleep can wreak havoc on more than your perception: It can screw with your metabolism and contribute to a host of medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, per io9. So how do you figure out how much sleep you really need, without being unduly influenced by your foggy, sleep-deprived mind? Go on vacation, advises the Times blog. Once you've spent a few days acclimating to your body's natural, non-deadline-driven rhythms, how many hours you snooze each night in St. Lucia is probably a decent gauge of just the right amount of shut-eye you need back home. (Here, new sleep guidelines just for kids.)