How much sleep should you aim to get a night? The results of studies vary. Researchers at the University of California have said that we need at least six hours of sleep a night so that we can “recharge our batteries” and absorb the new information we’ve learned throughout the day. There are some who say that the healthy amount of sleep for adults is eight hours a night, while others have suggested that we sleep in 90 minute cycles, and should ideally aim to wake after five or six of these cycles. Children obviously need much more sleep than adults, with even older teenagers needing as much as 9.5 hours of sleep a night.
However, many experts agree that there are no set rules about the amount of sleep we need — it differs depending not only on age, but from person to person. What is clear, though, is that many people are not sleeping as much as they need to, leading to a “sleep debt” that means they feel tired throughout the day and sleep much longer than usual if they don’t need to wake up for anything. Not getting enough sleep can also lead to poor mood and feeling less alert.
If any of this sounds familiar, you probably need to look at your sleeping habits and see what changes you can make to improve them. Lack of sleep not only affects how you feel, but can impact on your physical health too, increasing your risk of diabetes and heart problems.
Here are some easy ways to alter your sleeping habits so that they are more healthy and you are getting the amount of sleep that you need:
- Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day, even if you don’t need to get up, so that your body gets used to a regular sleeping pattern.
- If you can, take the time to relax before bed. Unwind with a hot bath, or listen to some quiet music.
- Rather than drinking tea or coffee, consider a milky drink or a herbal tea that promotes relaxation, as these won’t keep you awake.
- Avoid having food, particularly large meals, or drinking alcohol right before you go to bed, as your sleep can be disrupted while your body processes these things.
- Relieve stress by exercising (though not too close to bedtime, as this can keep you awake), or by writing down the things that are worrying you before you go to sleep.
- Make sure you have a good sleeping environment. It should be a comfortable temperature, and you should limit light, noise, and distractions such as a television or computer. Also make sure that your bed is comfortable, with a mattress that caters to your body’s needs.