Some days you can breeze by on under 7 hours sleep while others call for 10. So how much sleep do we really need? It depends on the individual but in general for a healthy adult it’s much less than you’d think and as usual, quality is the most important thing. Read on to find out how much sleep adults need and how to get it.
It’s less than you think
We’ve all been told that 8 is the prime number of hours for sleeping per night. But who came up with that figure? And why, if it’s so perfect, doesn’t it always work? Sleepologist Sveti Williams explained for us how to use your sleep cycles to decipher the exact hours of sleep you’ll be needing tonight:
“As each sleep cycle has a duration of about 90 minutes, and we need 5 such cycles, the total for recommended sleep is 7.5 hours.
To calculate in a meaningful way the sleep we require, and to know when we should be going to bed, we need to work backwards and define the time at which we need to get up. For example, if we need to rise at 7am, we need to, firstly, count back 7.5 hours, which brings us to 11.30pm. Yet getting to sleep is a process and requires sleep onset latency, a period of time required to fall asleep after lights have been turned off, which lays the foundation for a solid night’s sleep. This period should be about 10-20 minutes. Allowing, therefore, for 20 minutes of sleep latency, 11.10pm can be defined as the time to be getting into bed to get enough hours of quality sleep, assuming a reasonable quality of sleep ensues.”
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It’s different for each person
Dr Lillian Nejad is a clinical psychologist from Omnipsych who knows a lot about sleep. So much in fact she wrote an entire book called LIFEBLOCKERS: The Sleep Edition to help you learn how to overcome insomnia. She gave us a sneak peek to help explain our complicated relationship with sleep:
“Everyone has their own optimum number of hours they need to function at their best, but research shows that most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. You may find that you function best with 6 hours or maybe 10.
You can work out your optimum sleep levels by keeping a simple sleep log: write down how many hours you have slept and rate how rested you feel when you wake up. If you feel rested and have energy, then you are sleeping enough. If you feel groggy and fatigued, then you may need more sleep.
If you are having trouble sleeping, the first steps are to identify whether you have insomnia, you can do this by keeping track of how much you are sleeping, and when and how often you are waking up.
Insomnia, simply put, is difficulty falling or staying asleep. In clinical terms, difficulty falling asleep, called sleep-onset insomnia, is when it takes more than half an hour to fall asleep. Difficulty staying asleep, called sleep-maintenance insomnia, can mean that you wake several times a night or you may wake up much earlier than usual and not be able to get back to sleep. Sleep-onset insomnia is more common in early adulthood whereas sleep maintenance problems usually affect older adults and the elderly.”
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It’s about quality first
Last year a large study from the Charles Perkins Centre in Sydney found that quality of sleep trumps quantity everytime. Participants with longer hours of sleep were still affected by signs of sleep deprivation if the sleep was poor quality. They’re not the first to make links between quality over quantity either. It’s been a trend in sleep studies for a while now. So how can we maximise quality to help us minimise the quantity of sleep we truly need?
Upgrade your mattress
Mattresses weren’t made to last forever and they weren’t all designed equal. They should be changed every 10 years or so and you should investigate which mattress type is most comfortable for you. Test out the different types - from soft to firm, modern memory-foam to spring - and shop around for a quality mattress at an affordable price.
Add a layer of softness
Perhaps you’re 5 years in with this current mattress and really don’t want to commit to a whole new bed right now. We hear you - and you don’t have too! Practical mattress toppers offer a quick fix for your sleep woes. Too hot? Try memory-foam with temperature regulation. Too cold? Add a wool underlay. Too stiff? Pop on a feather down topper for an extra layer of soft.
Make sure you have the right size bed
Sleeping on a great mattress or a cloud of softness is useless if you’re feeling cramped in your bed. While a neat double bed may have been the right choice for your wallet, we could all use some extra wiggle room. Upgrading to a king or queen bed doesn’t have to be expensive and it might be the change you need to wake up feeling refreshed instead of like a human pretzel.
Other lifestyle factors
Your diet, exercise and levels of stress all have an impact on your ability to sleep. Leading a healthy life during the day is the first step to getting a healthy night’s rest. Take a look at some bad habits - like too much caffeine and stress - you’re keeping during the day that are making it hard to get to sleep at night.
Step aside alarm clock - with science in tow you’ll be waking up to your natural body’s rhythms rather than the screeching sound of bells.