You probably know that sleep is important for your physical and emotional health, but how do you know if you are getting enough sleep?
Traditional advice is to get 7-8 hours of sleep each night, but since every body is unique it can be a little more complicated than that.
Let’s explore how to get enough sleep for your body, as well as how to make sure that you get good quality sleep each night.
A Quick Reminder
Many people promote good sleep hygiene and we will focus on that below, but no amount of sleep hygiene will help if you don’t allow enough time for sleep!
Researchers took a group of people, put them in a stimulus free room for 14-24 hours a day, and monitored their sleep. There were no clocks, so subjects didn’t know when they were going to bed or waking up.
The first couple days of the study, sleep times averaged 12-20 hours per night! This seems to indicate that many of the subjects were sleep deprived going into the study and their bodies needed to catch up from chronic lack of sleep.
Over a few days, the participants' sleep began to average approximately 8 hours a night with some sleeping more and some sleeping less.
How Much Sleep Is Right for Me?
Since everyone’s body is different, let’s look into how you can determine how much sleep your body needs? Reaction times are slower when you are sleep deprived so the following experiment gives you a good picture of whether or not you are getting enough sleep.
First, pay attention to when you typically go to sleep, and the time that you typically wake up naturally, ideally without having to use an alarm clock. Each morning at the same time after waking up, take the reaction time test here.
On the 4th day, move your bedtime up by 30 minutes. Continue with that amount of sleep for 3 days, checking your reaction time each morning. Notice if your score is significantly different with more sleep. Pay attention to how you feel throughout the day. How is your energy level? Is your mental functioning better?
After a few days, repeat the process by moving your bedtime up another 30 minutes. Continue to repeat these steps until you find a bedtime which seems ideal for you based on your reaction times and how you feel.
Once you know how much sleep you need, it is time to move on increasing the quality of your sleep. This is commonly affected by “good sleep hygiene.” Sleep hygiene focuses on what you can do throughout the day and at night to positively impact your sleep. Let’s look at a few of these things.
Exposure to Light - Circadian rhythm and the sleep/wake cycle is strongly affected by light. Most people think this means making sure your room is dark when you go to sleep and limiting blue light in the evening (screens, etc.), but there is more to it than that. Research has shown that getting bright light in the morning is the most important habit in getting a good night’s sleep. The morning light helps reset your circadian rhythm, setting you up for a good night’s sleep. If you are in an area that doesn’t have a lot of natural light in the morning you can use a light machine in replace of the sunshine. It won’t give you all the health benefits, but it is a good alternative when necessary.
Movement - Moving your body throughout the day is another important aspect of getting adequate sleep. In addition to exercise, it is important not to be sedentary throughout the day. Take the stairs, use a standing desk, take time to stretch, etc.
Evening Nutrition - Some people will sleep better with a lighter dinner and some people may find that a bedtime snack helps. Making sure your diet isn’t too low carb or low fat, can help as well. Dr. Kristen Allott recommends keeping a “lizard brain treat” by your bed at night. According to Allott, “A Lizard Brain Treat is a snack of sugar (a quick fuel) and protein (a longer lasting fuel). The quick fuel gets to your brain almost immediately, reducing the adrenaline, while the protein extends the amount of time you’re in your responsive cortex brain, before needing to re-fuel.” For ideas of what a lizard snack looks like, check out her website.
Caffeine and Alcohol Consumption - Having caffeine or alcohol can have a profound effect on sleep. Both of these interfere with your circadian rhythm. Limiting your coffee or soda, especially later in the day will help you sleep better at night, as will limiting your alcohol consumption through the day.
Stress - Learning some stress management techniques will help you handle the stress you are under and set you up for a good night’s sleep. Everyone de-stresses in a different way. Find out if deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or even getting together with friends helps you handle stress in a healthy way. Effectively handling your stress will be crucial when trying to get good sleep.
Environment - Most people think about the atmosphere in their bedroom when they think of sleep hygiene. While it isn’t the only piece, it certainly is an important one. Get a comfortable bed which is used only for sleep and sex. Control the temperature of the room (often a cool temperature is best). And monitor the noise level. Do you prefer soft noise, or do you sleep better in silence?
Do you need to work on the quantity or quality of your sleep? Making small changes is typically the best way to establish new habits. It may seem like making these small changes won’t make a difference, but some improvement is better than nothing. Your mind and body deserve to feel great, so let me know what you try and how it works for you!