There’s plenty of information out there on sleep. It’s an exhausted topic (pun intended).
There are countless debates over how much sleep you really need; we all remember the timeless advice that you must get in your 8 hours.
Well first off that’s probably not how much you need. So how much?
We’ll get there, but let’s start by looking at how the 8 hour figure came to be…
Where Did “8 Hours” Come From?
Like anything else, there are debates over this. The best explanation I’ve found comes from Dr. Christopher Winter, Medical Director of Charlottesville Neurology & Sleep Medicine:
“Where did this number come from? Most likely it originated from self-reporting data gathered years ago from young adults who reported sleeping an average of 7.5 hours during the work week and 8.5 during the weekend. As time has passed, this average amount of sleep has somehow morphed into the target we should all strive to achieve.”
The problem with sleep recommendations is that they’re often given by doctors who have nothing to do with sleep. I respect doctors and understand that they’re knowledgeable in their given field, but I would prefer to listen to a sleep doctor about sleep issues, just like I would prefer to go to a heart doctor about heart issues.
I chose to quote an actual sleep doctor above to backup my point. The main issue is that everyone sleeps differently and everyone needs a different amount of sleep, specific to their body, age and health.
How Sleep Works
Before you can understand exactly how much sleep you need, it’s important to understand what sleep is and how it works. Though we still don’t completely understand everything that happens with our body while we sleep, we do know that it’s important and frankly, if you don’t sleep, you’ll die.
Sleep basically happens in three phases:
- In the first phase, you’re almost awake. It’s a very light sleep. This would be the phase you would be in for the typical “power nap”.
- In the second phase, you’re body begins to go into a restorative mode, which is definitely where you want to be, but you’re not quite in the deepest phase yet.
- In the third phase, you’re in slow-wave deep sleep. This is the ultimate goal for a quality night of sleep. This is the deepest form of R.E.M. (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.
You could get a little less detailed and just split it up into R.E.M. (when we’re dreaming) and non-R.E.M. (when we’re not truly dreaming, but still thinking), but for the sake of understanding sleep better, the three phases are helpful.
It doesn’t end there. If only it was as simple as falling asleep, going through sleep cycles and waking up…it’s not that easy. There are interruptions; we wake up throughout the night, it takes different amounts of time to fall asleep each night and sometimes we just sleep better than other times.
The key is trying to make your sleep as consistent as possible. Let’s start with a few tips on getting better sleep…
How to Get Good Sleep
There are plenty of tips out there. Here are 7 of the best that actually work…
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed. As a general rule, you should stop consuming caffeine after noon and if you drink alcohol, try to limit it to once per week or less.
- Invest in a high-quality mattress and a nice pillow. There are too many options for you to be using an ancient mattress. This really is an investment in your health that can make you feel better all day.
- Figure out the most comfortable temperature for you to sleep. It’s generally between 65-70 degrees, but it completely depends on you personally.
- If you’re going to eat a large or heavy meal, do it earlier in the day; go for lighter meals before bed since eating a heavy meal can produce a low quality of sleep.
- Avoid “blue light” during the last few hours before bed; this is the light the comes from most modern technology, such as your phone or computer. Opt for a book instead.
- Try using visualizations to help you go to sleep. Try not to think about the day or the next day, but rather visualize something calming and relaxing that doesn’t require much brain activity.
- Stay active through regular exercise. Even just exercising a few times a week can help you fall asleep easier and stay asleep. Mornings tend to be the best time to do it.
How to Figure Out How Much Sleep You Need
Finally, now you’re curious to know how much sleep you should actually be aiming for each night and here’s how to find out in 8 steps:
- Take a week-long vacation
- Sleep without an alarm clock all week
- Remove all electronics from the bedroom
- Make sure the room is 100% dark
- Go to sleep at the same time each night
- Track exactly when you wake up each day
- Add up the total hours and divide by the days
- This will give you an average of how much you need
Obvious, this is easier than it sounds. What if you can’t take a week? What if you have kids? What if the room isn’t completely dark? The steps above are for an ideal scenario. You’ll have to mold it to your life.
If you have kids like I do, take turns with your spouse, getting up with them and just do it for a few days each. If you can’t take a week, take a long weekend. The goal is to get as many days as you can – the closest to an ideal scenario, to see how much sleep your body really needs.
The important thing is to leave all your electronics outside the room to make your sleep as natural as possible. This means leaving your phone out of the room and unplugging the alarm clock. There’s no reason to even look at the clock until you decide to get up.
That’s all it takes to really get an idea of how much you need. If you’re having serious sleep issues, consider going to a sleep doctor. Sleep is one of the most important things you will ever do, so it’s worth it to make your sleep the best it can be. Now get out there and go to bed!
How much do you sleep each night? Do you generally feel tired or well rested? Share in the comments!
Photo Credit: Andrea Addante