How Much Sleep Should I Get?

Why We Need Sleep

For something we spend a lot of our lives doing, there is a lot we still don't know about sleep. What we do know however is that sleep is important to good mental and physical health. We all know what we feel like when we've either not had enough sleep, or the sleep we have had has not been of a good quality, with lots of restless interruptions throughout the night. We are lethargic and cranky, just getting through the day can be a real struggle. Sleep allows our brains to switch off, clear away the mental debris of the day just gone and get itself ready and organised for the day ahead. There are lots of other health benefits linked with sufficient good quality sleep such as, the regulation of hormones, maintaining a healthy immune system, lowered risk of heart disease, lowered risk of stroke. It can even help with weight management, lowering the risk of obesity. 

Does Everyone Need The Same Amount Of Sleep?

We hear so many conflicting things about sleep. That some very successful people like Elon Musk and Richard Branson claim some of their success is down to the fact that their waking day is longer than average, sleeping as little as 4 or 5 hours a night. While in contrast others take it to the opposite extreme. John F Kennedy was famously known to nap for an hour or two during the day. So how much sleep do we really need, and does that change as we get older?
Well according to the American Sleep Foundation, this is what is recommended. 
Recommended Sleep Hours
0-3 months
14-17 hours
4-11 months
12-15 hours
1-2 years
11-14 hours
3-5 years
10-13 hours
6-13 years
9-11 hours
14-17 years
8-10 hours
18-64 years
7-9 hours
65+ years
7-8 hours
As you'll see, the quantity of sleep we need as we go through life decreases, but at all ages it really should be no less than 7 hours of sleep a night. Whilst quantity of sleep is important, so too is quality. If you fall to sleep easily in less than half an hour of going to bed, and sleep soundly until the morning, the chances are you are benefitting from good quality sleep.

Signs You're Not Getting Enough Sleep

If you stop and think about it for long enough, you'll probably know whether you're getting enough sleep or not. But very few people seem to actually do this, or make it a priority in their lives. Most people could do with more sleep than they're currently getting.
But to spell it out for you, here are some obvious signs to indicate whether you or aren't getting enough sleep:
  • First things first, if you feel like crap in the morning that's a sure sign there's a problem
  • You feel moody and cranky throughout the day
  • Worse even, you may actually feel depressed
  • Managing your weight is a challenge despite a balanced diet
  • You find it hard to focus and stay alert 
  • You need to rely on caffeinated drinks to make it to the end of the day
  • Your skin is breaking out a lot
  • You crave food that's bad for you like junk food, chocolate and crisps

Steps to Improve Sleep

If you are not getting enough sleep, or you don't sleep well, improving it needs to start with you.
Here are some simple steps to better sleep:
  • Plan to go to bed at the same time every night. We respond well to routine, and if we stick to a consistent pattern over time, our body learns what to expect.
  • Avoid light from the blue side of the spectrum in the run up to bed time. Give yourself a break from it for at least an hour before bed. Light from laptops, TVs and other digital devices, as well as daylight can be disruptive. Block it out with blackout curtains or blinds, or a sleep mask can do the same job.
  • Invest in a sleep, meditation or mindfulness app for your phone such as Digipill, Unplug, Breethe or Headspace. Many of them offer free trials so you can give them a try before parting with any of your hard earned cash.
  • Get fresh air some sunshine and ideally some exercise daily, this can have a fantastic impact on the quality of your sleep and the ease at which you go to sleep
  • Avoid alcohol as much as possible late in the evening, whilst alcohol can help you get to sleep, it can result in poor quality sleep
  • Avoid caffeinated or energising hot and cold drinks such as coffee or cola beyond mid-afternoon
  • Instead have a soothing drink before bedtime such as chamomile tea or a warm milky drink
  • Drinking too much of anything before bedtime is a bad idea as a trip to the bathroom during the night is sure to disturb your sleep
  • Feed on sleep friendly foods such as fatty or oily fish, leafy green vegetables, nuts, cheeses and some fruits such as kiwis and cherries
  • As much as possible avoid foods that can hamper sleep quality, salty or spicy foods in particular, foods high in bad fats, and chocolate
  • Stock up on vitamins and minerals know to contribute to good sleep; iron, calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, valerian root, vitamin E
  • Make sure you have a good quality mattress, as you're going to be spending a lot of time on it
  • Finally, and we would say this of course, invest in good quality bedding

Wrapping It Up

If you're not getting enough sleep, make sure you recognise the signs and do something about it. As we said above, action has got to start with you. Any small steps towards improvement is improvement nonetheless. Hopefully we've given you some food for thought and if you do have sleep issues we've provided some tips and suggestions to finally put them to bed!