How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Sleep can either be the best part of your day, or a frustrating inconvenience. I love sleep. In fact, often the only way I can get myself out of bed is reminding myself when I’ll next be able to sleep.

Stopping Alarm Clock

In our sleep-deprived world, most of us are constantly playing catchup with our circadian rhythms. When we’re burning the midnight oil and then setting alarm clocks for early wake-ups, and finally recouping as much as we can on weekends… it’s difficult to know what our sleep needs actually are.

I’ve noticed that 7 hours just doesn’t usually do it for me. And then, of course, there are times when I’m fighting a cold, or battling a lot of daily stress, when I need some extra Z’s. But on the other hand, many studies have found that too much sleep can be just as bad for your health and functioning as too little sleep.

About a year ago, the National Sleep Foundation, along with other health professionals, updated the recommendations to expand the recommended range, acknowledging that there’s a variety of needs, and that it’s very largely impacted by exactly what age you are.

Sleeping in library

Negative Effects of Insufficient Sleep:

  • Makes it hard to focus on tasks.
  • Your skin ages faster.
  • Contributes to depression, weight gain, and diabetes.
  • Compromises your immune system.
  • Trouble driving.

Age and Genetics Determine Your Sleep Needs

Throughout your lifetime, your sleep needs will change. For example, newborns sleep 14-17 hours per day. As teenagers, we need more sleep than as adults. As we get older and become seniors, our need for sleep will decrease. Why? It has to do with the function of our brain at each stage. See here for a more detailed chart concerning age and sleep recommendations.

In addition to your age, genetics will determine how much sleep you need. You can tell a lot about how much sleep you need based on how much your parents and siblings need. This is something that can’t be changed, it’s just the way your brain is wired! It has many links that we’re only just learning to understand, including your hormonal balance, and your likelihood of ADHD or heart disease. Some genetic combinations can make you need more sleep than average, and others can make you need less.

Other Influencing Factors

  • Gender: Some studies say that women need an average of 20 minutes more sleep per night than men, because of the way that their brains multitask during the day.
  • Stress level: When we’re operating on high stress levels, we need more sleep. This is ironic, because usually when we’re stressed we get the worst sleep. This may be due to stress-related insomnia, or that we’re just pushing ourselves too hard to make time for sleep.
  • Health: When you’re fighting a cold you need more sleep. Additionally, more severe health problems, like cancer, can necessitate more sleep.
  • Quality of sleep: If you’re getting 9 hours of sleep a night and still finding yourself sleepy, there could be something else going on. You might be suffering from sleep apnea, or some other sleep disorder.

Sleepy Girl

How To Determine Your Sleep Needs

Sometime when you have an honest vacation of 4-8 days, set up a little experiment. Go to bed at the same time every night. Wake up without an alarm clock. And when you awaken and actually feel rested, get up (don’t sleep in longer just to be contrary, like I do). The first couple days don’t count because you’ll be recovering from your work week. But after that, check how much sleep you actually take when given the luxury of sleeping on your own personal time clock. During the test, avoid alcohol and caffeine, as they can interrupt your sleep patterns.

Tips for Better Sleep

Avoid sleep medications, which can be habit-forming, unless you’ve had them recommended to you by a doctor.

Make your room a perfect sleep zone by blocking out noise and light, and keeping the temperature cool.

Don’t eat for four hours before bedtime.

  • Avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before it’s time to sleep.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise was shown to be as effective as medication after a few months, and it’s free of any harmful side effects!
    Keep to a regular schedule, rather than depriving yourself of sleep one night, and then overcompensating the next.

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