We all know how it goes. You need eight hours of sleep a night in order to stay healthy and happy. Right?
Well, it’s not technically wrong, but it might not be right, either. The idea that every person needs to have eight hours of shut eye in the evening is a longheld one, but in recent years it has had a solid debunking.
According to Dr Michael Breus, one of the world’s leading sleep experts, eight hours of sleep isn’t going to be the magic number for every single person. He himself only sleeps for six and a half hours every night, while his wife stretches out for two more hours in bed. Everyone is different, basically, and we all have different sleep needs. Some people need up to nine hours of sleep, others can make do on seven. It most definitely isn’t one size fits all.
In order to find out just how much sleep you need of an evening, figure out your usual wake up call, and count back seven and a half hours from there. The average person should be getting about seven and a half hours of sleep, so see how that works for you. Finding out how much sleep you need is all a matter of trial and error. Do you feel rested when you wake up the next morning? Are you rising just before your alarm goes off, or are you snoozing it multiple times before dragging yourself out of bed?
If it’s the latter, you might need more sleep. If it’s the former, then congratulations, you’ve just worked out how much rest you need each evening and you can plan your nights according. A note: you’re going to need to try this out for a week or maybe even two in order to discover what is best for you.
The reason Breus has settled on seven and a half as the sweet spot for most people is that your body is supposed to go through five 90 minute sleep cycles over the course of an evening. During those sleep cycles, your cells are regenerating, your immune system is strengthening, your skin is resurfacing and your muscles and recuperating. In short, your body is healing. You’re also dreaming, lots and lots of dreaming, though whether you’ll remember any of it when you wake up the next morning is a different question altogether.
In order to feel properly and truly rested, you need to process through four or five sleep cycles a night, which is why you need seven and a half hours of sleep. If you’re not getting that much, you will continue to feel exhausted until you balance out your sleep debt and have a few nights in a row during which you complete five sleep cycles.
So, getting that seven and a half hours of sleep is important. But what can you do to make it a bit easier? One thing is to set up a clear and easy-to-follow sleep hygiene protocol. That means that you have a routine when you go to bed, whether it involves putting technology away and steering clear of the blue light before getting into bed, or a little bit of quiet meditation. Good sleep hygiene can also include a diet that avoids stimulants or heavy, disruptive food before bed, too. Having a good quality bed, mattress and sheets helps too.
Once the going to bed portion of sleep hygiene is taken care of, all that’s left to do is see how you feel the next day. If you got seven and a half hours of sleep and you can’t get out of bed then we have a problem. Give yourself another 15 minutes in bed, and then another, and then another if you need it: keep increasing until you feel like you’re getting enough sleep the next day.
But what about if you’re getting out of bed without being forced and waking up before your alarm? If you feel clear and collected, ready to tackle the day, and don’t need to fill your body with legal stimulants in order to do so, then well done. You’re getting enough sleep. Now the only thing left is to keep it that way. Easier said than done, right?
If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, your first port of call should be your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.
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