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How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

50 to 70 million adults in the USA now suffer from a chronic sleep or wakefulness disorder and 30% of adults have insomnia. Sleep, or lack thereof, impacts not just our physical bodies or our mental health, it impacts our salaries, how much money we're likely to earn over a lifetime, the amount of work place accidents we are involved in, and even early and unnecessary DEATH.

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How much sleep do you really need?
Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

According to the smart people over at the Sleep Foundation, adults should be getting about 7-9h of sleep each night.

I know they are experts in their field, but I respectfully disagree.

I like a good 9-10h of sleep. I can just sleep and sleep and sleep. If I’m really tired I will end up sleeping more, and if I’m well rested I sleep less.

But every boyfriend I’ve ever had has only required about 6h of sleep. 

My current boyfriend has a habit of waking up in the middle of the night and then being unable to go back to sleep.  

So instead of lying in bed tossing and turning, he will get up and make a cup of tea, then do some work on his laptop (he’s a computer programmer so functions best without distractions).  

Eventually he will come back to bed and sleep for a few more hours.

But he never complains about being tired, I’ve never caught him yawning at all, and he’s just always present and productive.

Me on the other hand…sigh! 

I will sleep for 9h, then snooze my alarm for 30min repeatedly, struggle to keep my eyes open, drink 2 cups of coffee quickly to help wake me up, yawn repeatedly until I’ve also had breakfast, eventually start to perk up by 10am at which point I do my best work for a few hours, until the afternoon where I start wishing for a nap.

Don’t even get me started on hayfever season, it seems to make me sleep even more, and deeper than usual.

So How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Here’s what I say, and this will be true for most things in life.

You need to learn to listen to your body!

Sometimes your body will need more sleep, and other times less.

Just like sometimes your body needs more food, and other times less.

I know we all like to ask the experts to see if we are doing it right, but learning to listen to what your mind or body needs or wants is the best thing you can do for yourself, in all areas of your life.

Human beings are complicated.  And diverse.

No 2 human beings look the same, walk or talk the same, have the same desires or questions or behaviours. We eat different foods and enjoy different activities. 

Why should we then be told how much sleep you need, as if there is a one size fits all approach to sleeping?  

It doesn’t make sense!

What I say is do what you feel is necessary by listening to your body. 

Then giving it what it needs.

Focus On The Quality Of Your Sleep Instead

More than the amount of hours you sleep, the quality of your sleep is what matters.

You can spend 10h in bed, but still wake up tired after tossing and turning all night long.

Or you make sure that when you go to bed, you have a good night’s sleep without interruptions, so you wake up well rested and refreshed.

A well rested mind is a productive mind.

A tired mind is a lazy mind.

OK so I just made that up but it is more or less true.

When you properly give your brain and your body the opportunity to relax and recharge, you will feel far more energized the next day.

You will feel smarter, more intelligent, more relaxed and resilient, less stressed out and reactive to “threats” around you, and life will just be easier to navigate.

What Happens When You Are Regularly Sleep Deprived?

Not getting enough good quality sleep is very bad for your health.

Sleep deprivation can cause, or has been linked to:

How To Sleep Better

  • Cut back on sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
  • Avoid anything that will make you too excited at bedtime, like scary movies, social media, arguments with your sister.
  • Make sure your bed is comfy. No-one can have a good night’s sleep on a poor mattress with a lumpy pillow.
  • Make sure your room is a calm and peaceful place.
    • Keep it dark.
    • Tidy up.
    • Not too hot or too cold
  • Wear comfortable clothes or pajamas.
  • Exercise more.
  • Manage your stress.

Sleep Disorders

If you have tried everything on this page and you are still having problems falling asleep, then it’s time to see your doctor.

There are a number of real and dangerous sleep disorders that you could be suffering from.

Doctors need information to accurately diagnose you, so start by keeping a sleep journal or diary where you list the time and date and the problem you are experiencing.

Reevaluate your life

Personally for me, the biggest driver of a bad night’s sleep is and always will be stress.

When I am stressed, I become so tense that I am unable to fall asleep.

Your mind cannot fall asleep while your brain is busy thinking and your body tense.

You can only fall asleep when you can relax your body and your mind.

Stress makes that hard. My thoughts will circle back to every conversation I had that day, what I could have said, what I should have said, what I should have done and what I will do next time. 

Almost always, those thoughts take a negative turn, and I will become more anxious and tense the longer I keep it up.

It’s a perfect recipe for keeping me awake.

Learning how to manage your stress and calm your mind before bedtime is one of the quickest ways to improve the quality of your sleeping.Meditation, breathing exercises and practising gratitude will all help with that.

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