I’ve always hated the need for sleep. Why would I want to spend so much of my life unconscious? As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time not sleeping enough and then regretting this decision for the rest of the day. And while I always thought a solid eight hours was the ideal amount of time for shut-eye, it turns out how much sleep you actually need each night can vary based on your age and your own body’s need for rest. There is not a “one size fits all” amount of time.
Although it would be cool if you could just Google the exact amount of sleep you need each night, but this is one of those things you have to find out on an experimental basis. Thankfully, by listening to your body and paying attention to your sleep habits for a few days, you can determine just how much time you need to conk out each night. And while many people feel pressured to sacrifice sleep for more time to work or socialize, there are great reasons to make sleeping more of a priority. For instance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regards insufficient sleep as a public health problem “linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors.” Sleeping enough can not only affect your mood on a daily basis, but also your ability to function at work and home alike. Fortunately, getting your sleep back on track is well within your capabilities.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults aged 18 to 64 should get seven to nine hours of sleep each night. As a comparison, school-aged children need up to 10 hours, while older adults may only need eight hours or less. So if there’s nothing special about getting exactly eight hours, how do you determine whether your body needs more or less sleep?
Are you able to sleep straight through the night, or do other things (such as a crying baby, snoring spouse, or obnoxious cat) keep you up? “If your sleep is frequently interrupted or cut short, you're not getting quality sleep," Mayo Clinic notes. "The quality of your sleep is just as important as the quantity.” So, whenever possible, minimizing things that may keep you up could make whatever shut-eye you do get feel more effective.
Once you’ve cleared the disruptive elements from your bedroom, the next step is to do some experimentation to find out how much sleep your body really needs. Feeling sleepy during the day is a pretty clear giveaway. As reported by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “moments of sleepiness that you may think of as routine, for instance, falling asleep on the subway on the way to work, or during a lecture, are likely a sign that you are not getting enough sleep.” Overall, paying attention to your body’s needs is a good first step.
If you need more sleep, then Slate recommends you go to bed 15 minutes earlier than you normally would and see if you still need an alarm clock to wake up. If you’re still relying on the clock, then set your bedtime back another 15 minutes, and continue until you’re able to wake up on your own.
Keeping track of your shut-eye with a sleep diary can also help. (The National Sleep Foundation has a free version.) By recording how much sleep you get each night and how you feel during the day, you can do more to find the amount that works best for you. There are even apps, such as Sleep Cycle or Sleep Genius, that can help monitor your sleep patterns to wake you during the least disruptive phase.
Overall, by paying attention to your body, and being open to a little experimentation, you can find out the ideal amount of sleep you need. The days of stumbling off to work like a zombie may be a thing of the past.