No matter who you are, sleep is essential for your health. However, when life gets busy, it can be one of the first things to get neglected or sacrificed. This is unfortunate because getting enough sleep is as vital to good health as eating healthy foods or getting enough exercise.
From smartphones that monitor REM to ever-changing “sleep hygiene” rules, we all know a good night’s sleep is essential to wellbeing. Advice varies, however, on how long actually constitutes that restorative rest.
Margaret Thatcher famously got by on four hours, while the accepted standard is eight. I prefer nine – but according to a major new study, we should all be aiming for exactly seven hours’ sleep, from our thirties to old age.
With 40% of people in the UK struggling to fall asleep, here’s how to get the best night’s rest to clear your brain fog…
Sleep is the foundation for good health
Sleep is more than just a time for your body and mind to rest. In fact, while you’re asleep, your body remains active. During this time, your body rebuilds muscles you’ve worn down during the day and removes toxins in the brain that accumulate while you’re awake. It’s also essential for keeping your memories intact. Likewise, it is vital in helping you regulate your emotions. Being sleep deprived for just one night can increase your emotional response to negative feelings by 60%. What’s more, sleep deprivation can affect your body’s ability to regulate essential functions like appetite control, your immune system, metabolism, and body weight.
Since sleep is essential for so many aspects of good health, you should make getting enough each night a high priority. Not prioritising it has negative health consequences – not getting enough sleep can cause issues other than feeling tired. Lack of sleep may affect cognitive performance; it can also lead to negative moods and less productivity. Even worse, getting poor quality or not enough sleep can increase your chances of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.
Sleep plays a key role in maintaining your circadian rhythm or internal clock. Your inner biological clock runs on an approximately 24-hour schedule controlling the sleep-wake cycle. It can also have an influence on your metabolism, inflammation, and how you respond to stress.
Not getting enough sleep, sleeping at odd times of the day, and exposure to bright light at night, can all disrupt your internal clock and the many processes it regulates. Although you may think you’re getting sufficient rest, not all sleep is equal. It is not only essential to get enough each night, but it is also important to get good quality sleep.
How much sleep do you need?
Everyone has unique needs and preferences, and individual sleep requirements are no different. Nevertheless, the amount of sleep you need per night is primarily determined by your age.
Official recommendations for sleep duration are broken down by age group:
- Older adults: 7 – 8 hours
- Adults: 7 – 9 hours
- Teenagers: 8 – 10 hours
- Toddlers: 11 – 14 hours
- New-borns: 14 – 17 hours
However, some people might need more or less sleep than recommended depending on other factors, such as genetics and sleep quality.
Your genetics are a determining factor in how many hours of sleep you need per night. Some genetic mutations can affect how long you need to sleep, what time of day you prefer to sleep, and how you respond to sleep deprivation.
Your genetic makeup is not something you can change, and there’s no practical way to know whether you carry one of these mutations. Therefore, it is essential to pay attention to how you feel to determine whether you’re getting the right amount of sleep.
The quality of your sleep can also affect how much you need. If your sleep quality is poor, you may find that you still feel tired after getting what should be considered enough. Therefore, it is not only important to focus on sleeping long enough but also on sleeping well enough. Furthermore, many common sleep disorders can negatively affect your sleep quality, such as sleep apnea.
Tips for better sleep
Since quality is important, try to make sure you’re sleeping well all night. Have a look at the following tips to get you started:
Follow a regular schedule – going to bed at the same every night helps regulate your inner clock.
Create a calming bedtime routine – having a relaxing routine before bed can help you get in the mood for sleep
Create a comfortable bedroom environment – sleeping in a quiet, dark room at a comfortable temperature can help you sleep better.
Minimise caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine – try to avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening, as research has linked this to poorer sleep quality.
Reduce your use of electronics – the excessive use of smartphones and electronics has been associated with poor sleep quality. Exposure to bright room lights or blue screen lights before bed may negatively affect your sleep.
Be more active – being active during the day can help you sleep better at night, so make sure you get outside for some exercise, even if just for 20 minutes.
The bottom line
Sleep needs vary by person and are affected by several factors. However, for most adults, 7-9 hours per night is the ideal amount. If you’re sleeping enough, you should feel awake and energised during the day. If you find yourself struggling or often tired, you may need to sleep more.
To make the most out of bedtime and get the best quality sleep, you can maximise the chances with daytime exercise, a regular sleep schedule and avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and snacking at night. Sleeping well is important to staying healthy and rested. Habit like minimising your caffeine intake and sleeping at regular hours can all contribute to a good night’s sleep.