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How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Friday, March 13, 2015
By Danielle C. Tworek, CPT, WLS, Nutritionist

Sleep Better Each Night

It seems like a new study emerges every day warning the public about the risks of too much sleep or too little sleep. Begging the question, how much sleep is just right? And, how do you ensure you hit the sweet spot of “just right” most nights?

The “perfect” amount of sleep varies from person to person. The National Sleep Foundation recently completed a study that offered targeted ranges for each group:

Older adults (ages 65 and older). Seven to eight hours is ideal, however, there are some older adults that may find five to six hours of sleep sufficient. More than 8.5 hours or less than five hours is not recommended.

Adults (ages 26 to 64). Seven to nine hours is ideal for this age group. Anything less than 6.5 hours or more than 10 hours is not recommended.

Young adults (ages 18 to 25). Seven to nine hours is considered ideal. Anything less than 6.5 hours or more than 11 hours is not recommended.

See the full list of sleep recommendations by age group.

how to get a full night of sleepThese ranges may seem a bit confusing. How are you supposed to know if you fit into the “ideal” group or if you are among the few that need a bit more sleep or a bit less? Researchers say it requires a bit of trial and error. Ask yourself these questions from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear?
  • Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease?
  • Are you experiencing sleep problems?
  • Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
  • Do you feel sleepy when driving?

You may have to try consistently sleeping a specified number of hours within the range for a few days – testing each number of hours and assessing how you feel by asking yourself the above questions daily. With the exception of extenuating circumstances (i.e., stress, alcohol, illness), an average should become obvious.

How to Sleep Better Each Night

Of course, quantity of sleep matters very little if all you’re getting is low quality sleep. Quality sleep can be even more difficult to achieve than logging a certain number of hours. Sleep deserves the same amount of commitment you give to routine exercise and eating balanced diet, after all it is a crucial pillar of good health.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends these tips for a healthier night’s sleep:

  • Maintain the same sleep-wake schedule every day – even on the weekends. If obligations require you to lose some sleep deviate by no more than one hour on occasion. And, note that it is easier on your circadian rhythm to wake up earlier than stay up later.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine – starting winding down two to three hours before you want to be asleep.
  • Invest in a high-quality, comfortable mattress and pillow. Don’t crowd your sleeping space with too many pillows or blankets.
  • Evaluate your bedroom, assess the temperature, sound exposure and lighting. Ideally, your bedroom should be for only two activities: sleeping and intimacy.
  • Leave the electronics out of your bedtime routine. Watching TV, surfing the internet, checking email, perusing your smartphone or reading on a backlit e-reader are activities best completed before your bedtime routine begins.
  • Skip stimulants like caffeine and tobacco late in the day. Don’t drink alcohol before bed. These are known “sleep stealers” disturbing various phases in your sleep cycle.
  • Keep a pen and paper handy. If you struggle with falling asleep or staying asleep because your mind reels with ideas and to-dos, keep a pen and paper by your bed. When something is keeping you awake, write it down, then forget – it will be waiting for you in the morning so you can get some sleep.
  • Get some exercise daily. The more active you are during the day, the more deeply your tired body will be primed for sleep. However, keep exercise spaced, at minimum, three hours before bedtime.

If you still struggle with sleep despite your dedication to a sleep routine, talk to your doctor about natural sleep aids. Something as simple as sipping chamomile tea or a tincture of valerian root can send you off to dreamland with little to no side effects.

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