We only live once, so why not make the most of it? The ‘Better Me‘ series hopes to give some ideas on how to add fun and meaning to our lives.
We all know we need our “beauty sleep”, for reasons far more important than beauty. We may not be clear on why we sleep or what goes on while we do, but we do know how terrible we feel if we go without it. Amongst the effects of inadequate sleep are inhibited productivity and loss of the ability to focus and remember. Lack of sleep increases the risk of weight gain, diabetes, heart problems, depression and stress. But exactly how much sleep is enough? Do we really need to spend a third of our lives in slumber or can we make do with a slightly smaller investment?
It is widely believed that every person on this planet needs eight hours of continuous sleep per day. However, there is evidence to suggest that, historically, people may have been following a segmented sleep pattern, at least in some parts of the world. Whether continuous or segmented, the amount of sleep we need will partly depend on our age. It will also vary from person to person just like the amount of food, exercise, love and attention each of us needs. The total amount of sleep we need each day is said to be the sum of two components:
1) our basal sleep need (being the hours of sleep our body needs for optimal performance); and
2) the amount of extra sleep we need each night in order to repay our “sleep debt” (or the cumulative hours of sleep we have lost over time).
Too much of a good thing?
Contrary to popular belief, getting as much sleep as possible is not necessarily the answer. Research suggests that, in adulthood, more than 9 hours of sleep each night can lead to increased illness and accidents. Sleeping too much (or too little) is also associated with depression and higher mortality rates. So even if, over time, you have accummulated a huge sleep debt, spending most of your weekend in slumber is not the best way to repay it. Adopting a healthy, regular sleeping pattern is a far better solution.
Sleep and age
Children’s sleep needs will vary between 12 and 18 hours depending on their age and individual needs. This amount will decrease to about 9 hours by the time they reach their teens.
Adults are typically said to require between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. However, some research suggests that, when it comes to healthy adults, 6 to 7 hours of sleep are sufficient, if not optimal.
As people grow older they spend a decreasing amount of time in deep sleep. That’s why the elderly often complain of being easily awakened. Nevertheless, elderly people need just as much sleep as adults do (if not slightly more), and should consider taking afternoon naps if they have difficulty sleeping enough at night.
Below is a general guide of hours of sleep needed by different age groups:
|Age||Hours of sleep|
|Newborns (0 – 2 months)||12 – 18|
|Infants (3 – 11 months)||14 – 15|
|Toddlers (1 – 3 years old)||12 – 14|
|between 3 and 5 years old||11 – 13|
|between 5 and 10 years old||10 – 11|
|Adults||7 – 9|
Aside from the hours of sleep we need, our body’s circadian rhythm will also affect our sleep pattern. As children enter their teens, a shift in their 24-hour cycle causes a desire to stay up later at night and sleep in more in the mornings. Unfortunately, school hours tend not to coincide with teenagers’ natural sleeping patterns.
Work out how much sleep you need
Since the amount of sleep we need varies from person from person, we each need to carry out our own research in order to determine exactly how much sleep is right for us. We can start by roughly estimating our basal sleep need according to our age and based on our experience so far. We can also try to gauge whether we need to budget for any sleep debt repayments in addition to our basal sleep need. For example, if you think you have a significant sleep debt, you may wish to add an extra hour of sleep to your basal sleep need of, say, seven hours, and try sleeping eight hours per night over a period of time. Once your energy levels start to rise, you can then try to reduce your hours of sleep to seven and a half hours per night, and then to seven, making note of any differences in your productivity, memory and energy levels. Once you have determined how much sleep you need each night in order to be in top form, make sure you get it.
How to get a good night’s sleep
Although a popular topic for conversation, sleep tends to be rather low on our list of priorities. Yet the only way to ensure that we consistently get enough sleep, both in quantity and quality, is to make it a priority. We can do this by adopting a regular sleeping schedule.
1. Keep to your sleep schedule
It may not always be possible to adhere to our schedule, but sticking to it even five days a week will help to deplete our sleep debt. A sleep schedule will help us to fall asleep more quickly and sleep through the night without waking up. Best of all, after a while getting up in the mornings will no longer seem so hard.
2. Rise and shine
Part of having a sleep schedule is waking up at the appropriate time. Make sure that you do this by setting an alarm clock and getting up when it goes off. Avoid snoozing by placing your alarm clock some distance from your bed so that you have to get up to turn it off. Set yourself a time by which you need to start your first activity of the day (e.g. your shower, breakfast or gym session) and make sure you stick to it. All this will hopefully stop you from getting back into bed.
3. Prepare for bed
Sticking to a sleep schedule may seem difficult at first, especially to people with irregular sleep patterns. Try easing yourself into it with a hot bath before bed. You could also try listening to relaxing music or reading fiction. Do not take a computer to bed and avoid watching television or reading anything that causes worry or stress.
4. Feeling comfy?
Make sure you have a comfortable mattress and pillow, and that your room is as dark, quiet and warm as you would like it to be. Consider using earplugs and a sleep mask if necessary.
Although easy to dismiss, a good night’s sleep is one of the best investments you can make: it costs next to nothing and promises a safe, high return. More tips on how to get a good night’s sleep will follow later this week.