You’ve probably heard that everyone needs eight hours of sleep each night. Actually, according to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), the amount of sleep we need varies according to age. The NSF recommends:
Toddlers age 1-2: 11 to 14 hours
Preschoolers age 3-5: 10 to 13 hours
Children age 6-13: 9-11 hours
Teenagers: 8 to 10 hours
Adults age 18-64: 7 to 9 hours
Adults age 65 and older: 7 to 8 hours
As you can see, we need less sleep as we get older. As busy adults, however, many of us get far less than the recommended amount of sleep. We “burn the candle at both ends” by staying up too late and getting up too early. In addition, the quality of the sleep we do manage to get can be compromised by the amount of coffee and other caffeine we consume and how much light we are exposed to from, among other things, our screens: cell phones, TVs, and computers.
Sleep is an individual thing. Your work schedule, overall health, and the amount of stress in your life can dramatically impact your sleep needs and sleep habits. Experts say that even 30 minutes less sleep than you need can make you drowsy, grumpy, and unproductive the next day. Thus, regardless of the guidelines listed above, to help determine how much sleep you personally need, consider these questions, adapted from the National Sleep Foundation website (sleepfoundation.org):
*Are you productive and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or do you feel markedly better when you get eight or nine hours of sleep?
*Are you driving drowsy?
*Do you need coffee to make it through the day?
*Is a health problem such as sleep apnea robbing you of sleep?
Quality sleep is essential to overall health. A lifestyle that creates “sleep debt” can have serious consequences. Insufficient sleep can impact your cardiovascular health, predispose you to weight gain and diabetes, and even increase your risk for certain cancers. If you’re not getting enough sleep, weigh these risks against what you are accomplishing during the time you should be sleeping. (You can read more about health and sleep on the Sleep Foundation website under the “Health Impact” tab.)
To sleep longer and better¾starting tonight¾begin to adjust your lifestyle according to these guidelines:
- Follow a regular sleep schedule. That is, go to sleep and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Avoid napping in the late afternoon or evening because it might make it harder to sleep at night.
- Develop a bedtime routine that lets you wind down before you go to bed. Some people relax by watching television, reading a book, taking a warm bath or listening to soothing music. Find what works for you.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and neither too warm or too cool.
- Be careful about when and how much you eat in the evening. Consuming a large meal close to bedtime may keep you awake. On the other hand, a light evening snack may help you sleep better.
- Avoid caffeine late in the day.
- Avoid alcohol in the evening. Even a small amount can make it harder for you to stay asleep.
- If you wake up during the night, expose yourself to as little light as possible. Resist the urge to look at your cell phone. When you go to the bathroom, instead of blasting your eyes with a bright overhead light, use a plug-in night light that exposes you to light that is less harsh.
- If your mattress, pillow, or blankets are making you uncomfortable, replace them with ones you like better.
- Address the home safety issues that could rob you of the peace of mind you need to sleep well. Install smoke alarms outside of your bedrooms. Lock your doors before you go to bed. Remove any rugs you or another family member might trip on if they get out of bed in the night.
- If you are not sleeping well due to sleep apnea, pain, restless leg syndrome, or another physical problem, talk with your doctor.