Eight hours is the magic number when it comes to sleep, or so they say.
“You didn’t get your eight hours last night, Jimmy,” the proverbial they might scold, or, in bragging tones, they might add, “I slept so well last night! Good thing I got my eight hours!”
But, just as not everyone enjoys country music or is able to do a cartwheel, not everyone needs eight hours of sleep for the simple reason that we are all unique. Our individual lifestyles, ages, state of wellness and genetics make any “magic” number impossible to define. Just like any other characteristic that you are born with, your sleep needs may vary, even from people of a similar age, gender and lifestyle – some people may require only seven hours of sleep at night to function at peak performance, while others might need over nine. Neither is better or worse than the other, but is instead tailored specifically to each individual.
The fancy scientific term for this is basal sleep need, or the the amount of sleep our bodies need on a regular basis for optimal performance. Researchers are exploring this concept in conjunction with sleep debt, which is the accumulated sleep that is lost to poor sleep habits, sickness, awakenings due to environmental factors or other causes. The interaction of a person’s sleep need and accumulated sleep debt works as an equation to determine how much sleep is needed on any given night.
This short video featuring Janet Kennedy, a licensed clinical psychologist and sleep specialist, explains this in greater detail:
So how can I get the right amount of sleep for me?
Though research has not been able to pin down an exact number that works for all people, this table displays the average sleep needs of various life stages that scientists agree on. Negotiating your own lifestyle with the averages listed here will help you find the right amount of sleep that works for you. To do this, you must first consider how you feel on various amounts of sleep. Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality sleep to feel fully rested?
Then, you must examine your lifestyle, which could be impacting your ability to sleep soundly. Do you have any health issues? Are you overweight? Are you experiencing sleep problems? Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day? Do you feel sleepy when driving?
Once you have thoroughly considered your individual needs, think about incorporating the following into your daily routine and lifestyle:
- Try to sleep and wake up at about same time, even on weekends.
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music – begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep
- Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows, like a contoured down pillow or a supportive neck pillow.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex (keep “sleep stealers” out of the bedroom – avoid watching TV, using a computer or reading in bed)
- Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime and give up smoking (source)
Above all, be sure to make sleep a priority. Like anything else on your to-do list, make sure you schedule time to sleep, and don’t do it only after everything else. You are much more productive when rested, and sticking to a schedule will help your body to regulate itself better, allowing you to sleep fully for however long you need.