How long should you sleep?
We have all been there.
You had a late night, or you went to bed on time, only to struggle with sleeping.
The next day, your face proclaims what your body already knows: you are sleep-deprived. Most of us make light of sleep-deprivation. Tiredness in the modern world is almost expected, from the weary commuter clutching his coffee to the student writing that all-night essay. We chase it away with sugar, caffeine and will-power. But, by ignoring our beds we are storing up long-term health problems.
Sleep is essential for memory processing and tissue repair. It regulates your emotions, the immune system and metabolic functions, including body weight. In fact, being sleep deprived for just one night can increase your emotional response to negative feelings by 60%. The good news is that sleep duration is closely linked to age.
So, how much healthy sleep do you need?
Newborns: 14 -17 hours
Infants: 12 - 15 hours
Toddlers: 11- 14 hours
Preschoolers: 10 - 13 hours
School-aged children: 9 - 11 hours
Teenagers: 8 - 10 hours
Young adults: 7 - 9 hours
Older adults: 7- 8 hours
As you can see, there is still a lot of variation within each age bracket. That's down to genetics. Some people are naturally wired to function on six hours of sleep as their bodies shortened the length of their sleep cycle. At the other end of the spectrum, some genes impact on a person's quality to access deep sleep and they take longer to find that state. Sadly, there is no commercial test available to find out if you have these genes.
A little trial and error are needed to discover your perfect sleep cycle.
1. Check your sleep time against your age. This will give you a rough time-frame.
2. Map out your body clock. Everyone's circadian rhythms are slightly different and it makes sense for you to work with them. Just note down your energy levels over the next few days. When do you naturally feel alert, sleepy, satisfied or deprived? At the weekend, what time do you naturally wake up, if you don't have the pressure of an alarm clock? Prior to electric light, almost everyone would be aware of their cycle: you are just tapping back into that knowledge.
3. Pick a good point in the evening when you are feeling sleepy to turn off all screens - TV, phone, computer: everything. They are a major disruption to your body clock. Instead, pick up a book, cuddle a pet, listen to music or pursue a relaxing hobby. When you are ready: go to bed.
4. Aim for a length of sleep in line with your age. For example, an older adult needs 7 - 8 hours. So, try for 7.5 hours prior to your alarm clock. If you are falling asleep easily and waking up a few minutes before your alarm clock, you have found optimum sleep.
5. If you are struggling, adjust your bedtime in 15 minutes intervals one way or the other to achieve good sleep. Allow 3-5 days for the new sleep cycle to take effect.
6. Your body loves predictability. If you can, stick to the same waking schedule at the weekend. Conversely, if you are planning a midnight movie marathon, allow enough time the next morning to recover your sleep.
Good-quality sleep is one of the smartest lifestyle investments you can make. If you are planning any other changes in your life - from weight loss to career changes - then sleeping on it will help you to achieve them.