“The amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.” – Wilson Mizener
It’s a long-held belief that an 8-hour sleep each night is the target everyone should aim for to ensure that the body’s batteries get the best opportunity to recharge. However, sleep research is beginning to uncover the benefits of sleep quality, not just quantity, and the importance of sleep satisfaction in terms of boosting overall health and well-being.
How Much Sleep is Enough Sleep?
According to the National Sleep Foundation in the USA, people between the ages of 18 to 64 years need seven to nine hours of sleep each day. Of course, sleep needs are a very individual matter and there are always exceptions, but it’s known that getting too little sleep has a detrimental effect on health, increasing the potential for obesity and developing diabetes and heart disease. Interestingly, individuals getting more than the recommended daily hours of sleep also have poorer health outcomes, but the reasons for this remain unclear.
To determine if you’re getting enough sleep, try answering the following questions:
- How quickly do you fall asleep?
Ideally, you should fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes of going to bed. If it takes longer, contributing factors to address may include caffeine, large evening meals, or anxiety. Falling asleep within seconds of going to bed, on the other hand, indicates that you’re not getting enough sleep.
- Do you need an alarm clock?
Waking up just before your alarm each day suggests you’re getting enough sleep, but struggling to wake up and hitting the snooze button several times suggests you’re not.
- How awake do you feel?
Keeping a daily sleep diary, either using an app or just a notebook and pen, can help to piece together a clearer picture of the correlation between sleep and your mood. Recording the number of hours of sleep you get along with the way you feel the following day will help to establish the optimum length of sleep for you.
The Dangers of Not Enough Sleep
Common signs and symptoms of not enough sleep include:
- Memory problems
- Poor decision-making
- Low mood, potentially depression
- Low pain threshold
- Weakened immune system
- Tendency to overeat or make poor food choices
- Increased risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, or suffering a heart attack.
The quality of the sleep you get is now considered of equal importance to the amount of sleep you get. Quantity can be extended by simply getting to bed earlier or getting up later, but improving sleep quality can be more complex.
Good quality sleep is defined as being asleep for 85 per cent of the time you spend in bed; falling asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed; waking on no more than one occasion during the night, and falling asleep again within 20 minutes of waking in the night.
Establishing healthy sleep habits is the key to getting quality sleep. These include:
- Making sleep a priority in your schedule, don’t place it last on your daily priority list
- Keeping to a regular sleep routine, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day
- Having a bedtime routine, making sure large meals, caffeine, and alcohol are avoided, and perhaps relaxing in a bath or reading a book prior to going to bed
- Making your bedroom a sleep sanctuary, keeping lights dim, and banning all use of TVs, phones, or any other electronic devices
In summary, getting the appropriate quantity and quality of sleep for you is a vitally important element of your overall physical and mental health. Paying attention to the way you feel in relation to how long you slept and how well you slept holds the key to recognising where changes need to be made to establish healthy sleep habits.
As the famous author Robert A Heinlein once said, “Happiness consists of getting enough sleep. Just that, nothing more.”
Don MacNaughton is a High performance coach having worked with thousands of people over the last two decades to achieve their goals and dreams.
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