Some superhumans can survive on just a few hours of sleep, while others claim to be borderline narcoleptics. But the truth is your body needs a certain amount of sleep, and it is possible to get too much or too little.
It’s important to know the amount of sleep that’s right for you. Being under- or over-rested can result in irritability, inability to focus, a lack of productivity, and bunions! Okay, not really bunions, but it’s pretty serious regardless.
Take the “How Much Sleep Do You Need?” Quiz
Wonder if you’re getting enough sleep? Or if your child is getting enough sleep? Take this quiz then scroll down to find your results. Just five easy questions can give you a range of ideal shut-eye times, and it might be more or less than you think!
How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends hourly sleep ranges based on age. Generally, the older we get, the less sleep required. Newborns need twice the amount of sleep than older adults. That’s probably where the term “sleep like by baby” comes from — who wouldn’t love to sleep 15 hours a day! See where your quiz results rank next to NSF recommendations: As you age, you sleep less of your time in REM sleep.
- Newborn (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
- Infant (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
- Toddler (1-2): 11-14 hours
- Preschool (3-5): 10-13 hours
- School age (6-13): 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours
But how many actual hours of shut-eye you need every day depends on many factors. Do you exercise? Where do you live? How old are you? It’s really not about total hours of sleep — it’s about the total hours of quality sleep you get. Less quality sleep means you’ll need more total hours to get the rest you need.
How Do I Get Quality Sleep?
You need to roll through enough sleep cycles to get the restorative benefits of sleep. That may take seven hours, or it may take ten — it depends on your lifestyle, sleeping conditions, and other factors.
Do you live near a busy train track with an aggressive street light right outside your window and a partner that snores like a lumberjack with a head cold? Then your sleep cycle is probably getting tons of interruption. If your sleep quiz results show lower than recommended sleep times, you should make some changes.
Stay in Deep Sleep Longer
Like a video game, our shut-eye happens in stages. You have to get to each stage to win a good night’s sleep. Different sleep stages add to our quality of sleep, and we cycle through them multiple times every night. Here’s our sleep journey:
- Stage 1: Very short in duration (1 to 7 min.). We’re just dozing off and our heartbeat and breathing slow. The slightest noise can arouse us, and we get the hypnagogic jerks (those weird twitchy spasms.)
- Stage 2: Around 10 to 25 min. long. Breathing and heart rate slow more. It takes an even stronger stimulus to wake us — Hello, Harley Davidson outside my window!
- Stage 3: We’re in deep sleep now, which we need if we want to wake up refreshed. Brain waves slow, and the only way to wake up now is if the cat jumps on your head.
- Stage 4 (REM): Heart rate and BP return to waking levels, but our arm and leg muscles become paralyzed. It’s also when we dream, dream, dream. Lasts 20-40 mins.
Quality sleep comes from cycling through these four stages uninterrupted. If we’re continually aroused or if we don’t cycle through enough stages, we won’t stay in deep sleep long enough to get quality rest. Do that long enough, and sleep deprivation will be saying “Game Over”. To combat distractions and stay in deep sleep, adjust your sleep habits, your environment, and your health.
Get in the Circadian Rhythm
Circadian rhythm is your body’s biological clock. Over the eons, humans have adapted to the 24-hour day and its light and temperature changes. Your body interprets the presence of blue light and warming temperatures, as “Wake up!”. These biological cues are strong, as anyone knows who’s worked the graveyard shift, suffered from jet lag, or experienced finals week.
Sleepers who fall outside the day-night cycle can develop Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS). The typical case is the teenager who habitually goes to bed at 2 a.m. and gets up at noon, but DSPS can also impact groups like the visually impaired. People with DSPS usually get sleep-deprived because they have to adjust their sleep schedules to the standard 9 to 5 workday. Folks with DSPS report wondering why people see their coffee and pastries request at 4 p.m. as “strange”.
DSPS symptoms usually include insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, and depression. The best way to combat DSPS is to get a job with flexible hours so you can keep your own sleep schedule. But until you get your resume updated, here are some tips for getting back to the sweet, soft rhythms of the Circadia:
- Gradually shift bed times. Hard resets give you a fresh start in a video game, but not with sleep. Instead, slowly adjust your sleep times by moving them back earlier and earlier each night until you hit your target.
- Light therapy – Trick your body. Expose yourself to bright light in early morning and avoid it in the evenings.
- Avoid blue screens – Smart devices emit blue daylight. Staring at them at night confuses your body.
- Avoid caffeine – Coffee and sodas keep you “on” at work, but are sleep killers. Avoid caffeine 6 to 8 hours before bedtime.
- Melatonin – DSPS studies show taking this naturally occurring hormone can help adjust your sleep clock. Talk to your doctor about trying melatonin.
By aligning your circadian rhythm, you can avoid disruptors that keep you from getting quality sleep — namely the 8 a.m. alarm clock.
Change Your Sleep Environment
Where we sleep contains many potential disruptors — from overly-bright clock displays to overly-stuffed pillows. Here’s how to make your sleep environment more slumber-friendly.
Mute Noisy Distractions
Bedtime noises are particularly pernicious because you may or may not be aware of them. While some noises are obvious disruptors (your five-year-old’s 2 a.m. closet monster sighting), other sounds — like road traffic — may consistently rouse you just enough to interrupt your sleep cycle. The World Health Organization reports that sounds as low as 30 decibels can affect your sleep. That’s whispering-in-a-library levels! Many other common exterior and interior noises exceed this noise level threshold too.
Intermittent sounds also interrupt sleep. Our brains retreat from slumber at sudden noises, even quiet ones (the furnace kicking on at night). But a completely silent room can be torture too. Our ears adjust to the silence and amplify every small creak and crack. You may need is a constant sound that covers intermittent ones.
You can use some noises to your advantage. White noise machines help dampen the nocturnal cacophony with a constant backdrop of droning sound. Try using a white noise machine along with these tips to help minimize inside and outside sounds:
- Use a fan for constant noise and air circulation
- Try earplugs designed for sleeping
- Soften hard surfaces (e.g. thick rugs for hardwood floors)
- Install triple pane windows
- Cover windows with soundproof curtains
- Use foam acoustic panels on walls
- Only run dishwashers and washing machines during the day
- Plant thick hedges outside your bedroom window
Block Out Blue Light
While morning light therapy gets your circadian rhythms in sync, too much night luminescence from outside and inside your bedroom is a sleep killer. The biggest enemy is blue daylight, and there’s a ton of it in your home, from your laptop to your light bulbs. Here’s how to keep blue light from keeping you up.
- Limit your screen use two hours before bedtime.
- Use the Night Light feature for all of your electronic devices.
- Wear blue light blocking glasses in the evenings or try blue blocking contacts.
- Cover your bedroom windows with blackout curtains or blinds.
- Wear a sleep mask.
Get a Better Bed Set Up
What you choose to sleep on is the biggest factor in how much quality sleep you get. Squeaky bed frames make noise. Lumpy mattresses create uncomfortable pressure points. Overly stuffed pillows and comforters cause night sweats. But there are plenty of options on the bed market to solve all of these problems.
Look for a bed foundation that fully supports the combined weight of yourself and your mattress. If your wooden bed frame sounds like someone dropped a box of accordions every time you turn over, look for a sturdy bed base made from metal. These are quieter and often allow more room for storage underneath.
We often toss and turn to find more comfortable positions while we’re asleep. That’s because our mattress doesn’t support our bodies properly. With the exception of SpongeBob, most bodies aren’t square, they’re curvy.
To ease your pressure points, look for a mattress that will support all of your concaves while giving way to your convexes. Most modern memory foam, latex, and elastic polymer mattresses are designed to take on this dual mattress mandate — but with varying degrees of success.
Your pillow may also be keeping you from getting quality sleep. Like your mattress, your pillow should support the curves of your head and neck, whether you’re a back, stomach, or side sleeper.
But your pillow should also keep your head cool. Most of our body heat goes out the top of our head. If air can’t circulate through our pillow, then we can wake up hotter than a pepper sprout.
Invest in a pillow that’s quiet, supportive, and offers proper airflow. It could just make the difference in your quality of sleep.
Can I “Catch Up” on Sleep if I Don’t Get Enough?
Unfortunately, no matter what you do, there will be some nights where the Z’s just don’t come. Maybe you’re nervous about a presentation at work or your sleep conditions just aren’t optimal. It happens, and when it does, you may be wondering if you can “catch up” after a night of insufficient sleep.
Sleep debt occurs when you get much less sleep than you should be getting. Whether it’s one particular bad night or a culmination of a few sleepless nights, lack of sleep can accumulate and lead to memory problems, foggy thinking and impaired vision.
It is possible to recover, but you won’t be able to do it in a weekend like most people think.
Instead of one, extra-long snooze session, sleep experts recommend adding an extra hour or two of sleep to your nightly schedule over the course of a few weeks (or months!). It’s also recommended that you turn off the alarm clock (if possible) and allow yourself to wake up naturally.
Obviously that’s easier said than done, but considering how important sleep is to your mental and physical health, it’s worth it to make sleep (and sleep recovery) a priority.
What If I’m Getting Enough Sleep, But Still Feel Tired?
If you’re consistently sleeping the recommended number of hours for your lifestyle, but still feel tired, you might want to schedule an appointment with a doctor to discuss the possibility of a sleep disorder.
It could be something as simple as making a few tweaks to your sleep schedule or environment. But it could be something as serious as sleep apnea, narcolepsy or even parasomnia (sleep walking/talking/eating).
Other health conditions that could disrupt your sleep patterns include diabetes, depression and cardiovascular disease.
We hope it’s nothing that serious, but if you find yourself struggling to stay awake day in and day out, it’s worth it to get a health checkup to make sure there isn’t an underlying reason for your sleep exhaustion.
Need specifics on how to improve the sleep you’re getting? Take this quiz on how to get better sleep tonight and learn some tips tailored to your sleeping habits.
Or, if it’s not you, it’s your baby, try these 9 unique ways to end bedtime battles — parent tested and baby approved!
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