How much sleep do I really need?

How much sleep do I really need? In case you were hoping there’s a nice, simple, one-size-fits-all answer to this question, there’s not.

The common wisdom that everyone requires eight hours of sleep per night is actually not supported by sleep research. In fact, about 5% of people are ‘short sleepers’ – that is, they thrive on six hours or less.

On the other hand, around 2% of the population are ‘long sleepers’ – they need nine or more hours of sleep per night for optimum function.

Both of these sleeping patterns usually emerge in late childhood.

Most adults require somewhere between seven and eight hours of sleep per night. But, how do you know whether you’re getting too much, too little or the right amount of sleep? Well, a simple experiment will help you pin it down.

You’ll need to stick to a consistent wake-up time for this experiment, even on weekends. Say you normally go to bed at 11pm, and get up at 6.30am. Try going to bed 15 minutes earlier and see if you still sleep through to 6.30am. If you do, you may be habitually short-changing yourself on sleep. Try winding back your bedtime another 15 minutes the following night. If you still sleep through to 6.30 am, wind it back again.

Repeat this exercise until you reach the point where you’re waking up spontaneously at 6.30 am. This is your optimal sleeping time. It may vary a little from time to time, depending on factors like stress, illness or pregnancy, but people tend to be pretty consistent in their sleep time requirements throughout most of their adulthood.

The aim is to get to the point where you awaken spontaneously, feeling refreshed.

What if you never wake up refreshed, no matter how much sleep you get? You may have some bad habits that interfere with your sleep quality, such as:

• Not getting enough exercise during the day.
• Using caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and other drugs that mess with the various stages of sleep.
• Too much exposure to bright light at night, especially the blue light emitted by screens.
• Failing to wind down adequately before bedtime.
• Not dealing with stress and anxiety adequately.

If you have exhausted all natural options for treatment, you may have an underlying illness that needs to be addressed so visit your doctor.

Article from Hopewood contributor Robyn Chuter.

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