How much sleep?

It’s one of the big health questions that always gets the experts talking – just how much sleep is enough?

Although it is recommended that adults look to get seven to eight hours sleep a night, everyone is different. Some people can get by on six hours while others need closer to ten. In general, research has found that new born babies need the most sleep, adolescents need more than adults and older adults need less than younger adults. But research can’t exactly pinpoint how much you need as an individual. How then, do you work out your optimal sleep amount?

Listen to your body

You can only really discover how much sleep you need by assessing how you feel after different amounts. How are you operating after ten hours? Or six?

On waking ask yourself,

• “Do I feel productive and awake?”

• “Do I feel sleepy? Am I struggling to stay awake?”

• “Can I concentrate?”

Quality not quantity

It’s not just the amount that’s important, the quality of your sleep is crucial too. Waking up regularly can affect how deep the sleep is that you then enter. Deep sleep helps your mind consolidate what it has learnt, restores your body and prepares you for the next day ahead.

Your lifestyle

While drinking alcohol may help you to fall asleep quicker it also prevents your body entering a deeper sleep and breaks up your sleep by making you need the toilet amongst other things.

Drinking caffeine, eating a lot of refined sugar and smoking can also impair your sleep. On the other hand, exercising regularly can increase your metabolism and help you sleep better. But be careful not to exercise too close to bed time as the increase in body temperature when exercising can last for at least five hours making it harder for your body to recognise that it’s time to switch off.

Repaying your debts

Every now and then you will have less sleep than you need. Whether that’s due to a late night, early start or disturbed sleep.

The occasional sleepless night isn’t a disaster. Any sleep you lose, or ‘sleep debt’ can be repaid. For example, if nine hours is your optimal but you only catch eight hours on Monday night, you can repay your sleep debt with an extra hour’s sleep on Tuesday. However, if you regularly get too little sleep and try to catch up with one or two night’s long sleep you may inadvertently be accumulating a ‘chronic sleep debt’. Researchers say that this can lead to a dangerous situation when someone may not realise the extent of their sleep deprivation, leading to errors and accidents.

Why do we need it anyway? 

Good quality and enough sleep can help ward off conditions like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. Scientists also say good sleep makes you live longer.

So what’s not to love? Make catching your forty winks a priority.

Written by Ruth Tongue
(MSc Nutrition)