Thinking About Sleep

As a student, I often don’t get as many hours of sleep each night as I would prefer to get. To be honest, I almost never wake up feeling absolutely refreshed and ready to start my day. I always feel somewhat lethargic, drowsy, and wishful that I could spend a little while longer snoozing in my comfy, warm bed. My family has often compared me to a little cat during early mornings…!

As we all know, sleep is a very important part of our health and well-being. Most of us will spend up to 30% of our lives sleeping, which seems a bit depressing at first blush! Most of us also know that getting enough sleep each night is essential, but very few of us actually consistently make sure that they get those hours of restful sleep. A lot of scientists describe this problem as what they call sleep debt, and say that those who have sleep debt have forgotten what it feels like to be really, truly rested.

I must say that it seems to me to have become quite difficult to achieve the right number of hours of sleep each night. The first problem is that we all lead very busy lives and have a ton of competing demands. In this fast-paced, achievement-driven world, getting enough sleep per night can often be viewed as laziness, and can often mean the difference between getting that dream job and staying stuck in a role you don’t enjoy, or the difference between having a moderately successful business and taking it to the next level.

In addition, society is literally flooded with a variety of stimulants, like coffee and energy drinks. In addition to that many of us live in cities filled with bright lights, loud sirens, and other distractions that make it hard to wind down at night. In addition almost all of us now has a smart phone at our side, which is addictive and can, if used to later in the day, interfere with our circadian rhythm and natural sleep/wake cycles.

Sleep needs actually differ depending on a person’s age, and are also impacted by a life style and health situation. Accordingly, to figure out how many hours of sleep you should be getting each night, you need to examine the lifestyle factors that are impacting the quality and quantity of your sleep. This includes considering your work schedule and stress levels.

If you’re anything like me, you might be frustrated to see that the key metrics for how many hours of sleep each of us need is constantly being revised. It’s so hard to know how to behave with all of this conflicting information! Luckily, the National Sleep Foundation recently released a study which apparently took more than two years of research to complete. This study re-examined the question of how much sleep we need.

In brief, the report concluded that all though research cannot identify the precise amount of sleep people need, research was able to determine rule of thumb minimum and maximum ranges.

But, before you can find out the number of hours of sleep that you need to optimize your health, you need to ask yourself a few questions. In particular, are you productive, healthy, and happy with only seven hours of sleep, or does it take you more time to get the quality sleep you need to feel your best? Also, do you have any health issues, such as being overweight, and are you at risk of any disease? Furthermore, do you ever depend on tea or coffee, or other sources of caffeine, to get you through the day? And, do you ever feel sleepy when driving?

The report essentially showed that younger adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have an optimal sleep range between seven and nine hours. In addition adults between the ages 26 and 64 essentially have the same suggested optimal sleep range of between seven and nine hours. However, older adults, being those 65 and older, have a sleep range between seven and eight hours. There are also sleep ranges for children, which are generally much longer.

So, how can we change our lives to sleep better and be more productive, healthy, and happy? Well, it begins by frankly assessing your own habits. One thing you can try to do is spend a few weeks sleeping a different amount of hours and seeing how that makes you feel. In addition, try keeping a journal in which the log your mood, energy and health after each night, along with a comment as to how many hours of sleep you got and what you did immediately before going to sleep. This can help you better understand what factors are most likely to result in a great sleep.

Another great practice is to develop a sleep schedule and to adhere to it, even on weekends where we can be tempted to stay up late. In addition, consider practicing nighttime rituals which relax you and prepare you for sleep. This could include reading a book, meditating, or listening to relaxing music. Another great way to improve your sleep quality is exercise on a daily basis. You may also want to conduct an audit of your bedroom to ensure that it’s the ideal temperature, and that it adequately blocks out sounds and light that could disturb your sleep.

Anyway, although I do not have a ton of time to sleep (the life of a student, sigh) I have implemented some of these techniques to at least ensure that I am getting maximum bang for my buck when it comes to my night time zzzs. 🙂