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How much sleep do we need?
It seems, from a lot of conflicting advice, that people need different amounts of sleep for different reasons. This may be the closest we can come to a definitive answer as it does appear that different amounts of sleep suit people in different ways.
How do you know you’re getting enough sleep?
Most of us have extremely busy lives these days. If you have kid and a demanding job on top of the day to day trials of life, then you could easily find yourself exhausted and feeling overwhelmed.
Worrying about the amount of sleep you’re getting (or not getting) can just add yet more stress and stop your night routine being as relaxing as it should be. Failing to sleep can have a knock on effect of increasing worry and making it even harder to fall asleep the next night. Before you know it you can be locked into a cycle of insomnia.
So what’s the answer?
A lot of advice out there revolves around getting more sleep and making sure the hours of shut eye you do get are satisfying. The truth is rather more complicated, however, and depends on many factors, including age, sex and health.
As well as your age being a determining factor in the amount of sleep you need, your individual needs will also have a bearing. It’s possible to be up and ready to go after as little as six hours sleep, while other people would find this impossible and need a clear nine hours.
Basal sleep need and sleep debt
Recent research has shown that there is a basal sleep need, that is the amount of sleep needed on a regular basis to function at the best possible capacity and also that we all suffer from ‘sleep debt’, or the sleep lost to illness, depression or just bad habits.
If you have your basal sleep need sorted for a few nights, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel tip top - if you have sleep debt that hasn’t been resolved then you could still be feeling below par and exhausted.
Circadian dips and timing
These are time periods every day that we are biologically likely to be more sleepy. They occur in the middle of the afternoon and at night time and you will feel extremely tired during these periods.
Not getting enough sleep has been proven to impair the memory and functioning ability but its consequences can be much more serious than this.
Not only can a lack of sleep make it genuinely dangerous to drive or operate machinery, it can also increase and disrupt the appetite, making it more likely that people will be overweight, which in turn can affect conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Too much sleep can also cause problems. Research shows that consistently having too much sleep can lead to or exacerbate depression. However, there are no definitive studies linking nine hours sleep to serious health problems whereas too little sleep is known to be very bad for you.
How to improve your sleep
Make a plan that gives you more time to rest - the best way to do this is to establish a routine every evening and stick to it. Having the time to properly wind down before you try and sleep is vital.
Your bedroom should be cool and comfortable - make sure it’s also as dark as possible and minimise devices like iPads and laptops as these can keep you awake. Make sure your mattress is supporting you properly, it could be worth buying a new one if yours is more than five years old. See our guide to the best mattresses for your needs for more information.