Ask for advice about sleep, and almost everyone will have something to say on the subject. While the conventional advice is seven to eight hours a night, there is no hard and fast rule that applies to everyone. Some people function perfectly well on five hours of sleep; others don’t feel truly rested until they’ve slept for nine or 10 hours. There is no magic number that will make you jump out of bed in the morning. Your sleep needs will change as you age. Below are a few tips to help you figure out how much sleep you really need and how to maximize the quality of the sleep you are getting.
Understand Sleep Debt
Several organizations, including the National Sleep Foundation and the American Sleep Association, emphasize the importance of getting out of sleep debt. Essentially, the sleep you get goes into a kind of sleep bank. If you borrow against this bank by not getting enough sleep, eventually it must be paid back. Some people take naps or use the weekends to catch up, but weeks or months of inadequate sleep can take a long time to pay back. Repaying your sleep debt is a critical first step to learning your basal sleep need, or the amount of sleep you need to function optimally.
Determine Your Basal Sleep Need
The best way to determine how much sleep your body needs each night begins by paying back your sleep debt. This may take a week or two, so it’s easiest to do during a vacation or break. Choose a bedtime that you fits your lifestyle and stick with it every night. In the morning, get up whenever you naturally awaken, without the use of an alarm clock. After a while, you’ll notice that you begin waking up after a certain number of hours. This is your basal sleep need and could be anywhere from five to 10 or 11 hours, although it is most likely about seven or eight. Now that you’ve caught up on your sleep debt and know how many hours are right for your body, make sure you get at least that much sleep every day. If you don’t, you will accrue more sleep debt, which will eventually need to be paid off again.
If you don’t have time to set aside to determine your basal sleep need, the following tips will help you manage your fatigue until you can catch up on some of your sleep debt.
Watch What You Consume
Caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes alter your body’s natural rhythms, so try to cut these out of your diet. If you need your caffeine fix, drink it first thing in the morning, as it can take more than five hours to wear off. The American Sleep Association recommends only drinking caffeine before noon, if at all. Nicotine and alcohol can influence your body in unpredictable ways as well, so if you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep, that night cap may not be the best idea. You should also eat your last meal or snack two or three hours before you plan on going to bed, as digestion can affect the quality of your sleep. If you must eat something, make sure it is a light snack.
Establish a Routine
Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, even on the weekends. The Sleep Foundation recommends starting your bedtime routine an hour before you hope to fall asleep. This routine can include a hot bath, soft music, or anything else that you find comforting. Avoid rigorous exercise right before bed, as the endorphins released may inhibit sleep. Stick to this routine even when you’re not tired. Sleep, like diet and exercise, should be a priority.
Bed is for Sleeping
Computers, televisions, and even books don’t belong in your bed. A 2010 study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that more than 80 percent of teenagers sleep with their cell phones on or next to the bed. Practices like this associate your bed with wakefulness. When you go to bed, you should be ready to fall asleep. If you wake up in the middle of the night, or have trouble falling asleep, sit in a chair in the dark until you feel tired enough to return to bed. Television or web surfing will only stimulate you and exacerbate your insomnia.
Many Americans have difficulty knowing how much sleep they need, or what activities might be preventing them from sleeping soundly. This information will allow you to determine your unique needs. If you follow these suggestions, you’ll be sleeping well in no time.