If you’re like most people, you have a set time when you have to wake up. When you go to sleep, however, is more of a dealer’s choice. Everything from hanging out with friends to binge watching The Queen’s Gambit can slice into your slumber. You probably haven’t had a set bedtime since you turned 13; however, the secret to optimal health and even happiness lies partly in how long you are asleep each night. Going to bed at the same time each night is the best way to guarantee that. So, how much sleep do you need?
It’s easy to find champions of diet and exercise. Sleep advocates are far more rare. Although more people have begun embracing the need for ZZZZs, doing planks or eating kale seems more trendsetting than talking about the importance of REM (rapid eye movement) cycles. The truth is, exercise, diet, and adequate sleep are the vital legs of a three-legged stool. If one is removed, the whole thing topples over. Study after study confirms the link between sleep deprivation and obesity, heart disease, even premature death. Not to mention how important it is to your prefrontal cortex. This is the most evolved part of your brain, the center of your problem-solving ability. One study showed that after a night of poor sleep, participants could still solve puzzles but only by employing familiar strategies. They couldn’t come up with new ways to deal with problems they hadn’t encountered previously.
So why don’t more fitness advocates celebrate sleep? Instead of talking about how much they need slumber, they post details about their four a.m. workouts. Often left unmentioned is when these early-risers actually go to sleep. Yes, the Protestant work ethic celebrates those who begin their labor before sunrise and continue working past sunset. Despite this, some of the most celebrated minds like Albert Einstein advocated afternoon naps as creativity boosters. Beyond those daylight dozes, Einstein claimed he needed ten hours of sleep a night! So, how much sleep do you need?
The Truth About Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation gathered a collection of some 18 doctors and scientists who after reviewing “hundreds of validated research studies about sleep duration and key health outcomes like cardiovascular disease, depression, pain, and diabetes” took some nine months to set guidelines for the amount of sleep people require. They concluded that most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Anything less and their performance will not be optimal and their health could be damaged. Your body goes through four distinct cycles a night, concluding with REM –– when your brain is at its most active. This is when you dream. However, since it takes an hour and a half to go through each cycle, you’ll need to be out for almost eight hours to get five full cycles –– the recommended number. The ideal is awakening at a cycle’s conclusion.
Although new parents are more focused on the times their little ones are awake and screaming, at the high-end of the scale, babies, like house cats, need 14-17 hours a night. Perhaps the group getting the least restful slumber are teens. Despite needing up to ten hours a night, everything from electronic devices to early school start times makes many of this cohort chronically sleep deprived.
Maybe you aren’t falling asleep at your desk. Still, there are some clear signs you are not getting enough sleep. If you are often irritable, hungry, or having problems with productivity, it’s an indicator you may be sleep deprived. You are the best judge of you. Think about the days when you got the most done and felt the best physically. How much sleep did you get? That should be your goal.
You can achieve optimal sleep by making it a priority. Set a bedtime. Then, stop drinking coffee at least six to nine hours before –– while you may not be aware of it, caffeine can stay in your system that long and it definitely disrupts sleep. So does alcohol and the blue light emitted by electronic devices. That’s why at least one hour before bed you should avoid both of them. Instead, take a warm bath or shower. Sip some herbal tea. Read a printed book. When you consistently get the sleep your body requires, you won’t just feel better. You’ll likely be a champion for quality slumber as well.
- Sleep Basics
- The effects of a single night of sleep deprivation on fluency and prefrontal cortex function during divergent thinking
- How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
- Teenagers and Sleep
- Six steps to better sleep
- The Queen’s Gambit | Official Trailer | Netflix
- The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Your Body
- Mark Wahlberg wakes up at 2:30 a.m. to start his day with a workout
- This column will change your life: The Protestant work ethic
- 11 Most Surprising Famous People Who Loved To Nap
- How to Calculate When You Should Go to Sleep
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.