Getting enough Zs every night is critical to success during the day. Lack of quality sleep can lead to daytime drowsiness, falling asleep in dangerous situations, lack of motivation or productivity. Long-term problems with sleep can even lead to physical and mental health issues. But how much sleep you need depends on a variety of factors, including your age, genetics and personality.
HOW MANY HOURS OF SLEEP ARE APPROPRIATE?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that the average adult needs at least seven hours of sleep every night. A University of California research study did find that some adults thrive on less sleep, with about six hours a night being optimal. However, those adults have a rare gene mutation that makes them a “short sleeper” by nature.
The CDC, in conjunction with the National Sleep Foundation and American Academy of Sleep Medicine, publishes recommended sleep times for various age groups, which are included below:
- Infants 0 to 3 months of age need around 14 to 17 hours per calendar day, including naps
- Infants 4 to 12 months need around 12 to 16 hours per calendar day, including naps
- Toddlers age 1 to 2 years need 11 to 14 hours per calendar day, including naps
- Children age 3 to 5 years need 10 to 13 hours per calendar day, including naps
- Children age 6 to 12 years need 9 to12 hours of sleep each night
- Teens age 13 to 18 years need 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night
- Adults need at least 7, but seniors (adults age 61 and older) may need up to 9 hours per night
Note that these are averages, and people of all ages may need more or less sleep than what is shown above. If you’re regularly experiencing any of the signs below, you may need more sleep each night:
- Falling asleep during day time activities, such as watching television, driving or sitting in warm rooms for long periods of time
- Falling asleep almost immediately after laying down in bed on a regular basis
- Feeling drowsy or sluggish in the afternoon or not being able to make it through the day without a nap
- Struggling to get out of bed each morning
QUALITY AND QUANTITY COUNT WHEN IT COMES TO SLEEP
Even if you lay in bed the requisite number of hours for your age, if you’re not getting quality sleep, it doesn’t really count. Some rest is better than no rest in many cases, but if your sleep quality is suffering, you may experience negative effects during the day.
Sleep is actually not a singular state; it’s a cycle. Every phase of the cycle provides some benefits to your mind and body, and quality sleep typically brings you through four total phases multiple times each night.
THE SLEEP CYCLE
Sleep is divided into two major types of rest: Non-REM sleep and REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is further divided into three stages:
- Stage 1 is a very light form of sleep during which your muscles relax and your eyes may roll or move slowly. During Stage 1 sleep, brain wave activity slows down slightly but you are not as deeply asleep as with other stages, so it can be easy to wake.
- Stage 2 is a deeper state where brain wave activity slows even further; your heart rate and body temperature also drop during this stage. You may also experience brain activity that researchers believe helps keep the brain from waking too easily during this stage.
- Stage 3 is deep Non-REM sleep. It’s believed to be the time when someone is most at rest (getting the most restorative benefits) during Non-REM sleep. Since it’s very difficult to wake someone in Stage 3, this is often where sleep activity such as sleep walking or night terrors might occur.
- REM sleep follows these three Non-REM stages. REM stands for rapid eye movement and it’s during this time that brain waves are more active, and you may dream.
Sleep cycles take an average of about 90 to 120 minutes and repeat throughout the night, typically in the order listed above.
Every cycle is important to ensure quality sleep. Stages 1 and 2 calm your body and brain so the more restorative deep sleep and REM stages can be reached. Most people experience four to six REM cycles per night, which allow them to wake feeling restored. But missing REM cycles or waking from deep sleep or REM sleep can throw your entire sleep rhythm out of balance.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN SLEEP CYCLES ARE BROKEN?
Scientists don’t fully understand the reasons REM sleep is so important, but they do know that missing REM sleep cycles or waking during deep sleep can cause problems in the short term. Your body may try to prioritize REM sleep over other cycles next time you fall asleep, which means your body isn’t going through the normal sleep cycle. This can lead to a poorer quality of sleep or waking up feeling unfocused and groggy. It can also lead to a negative cycle of poor sleep that causes your body to overcompensate the next night, leading to the same results.
TIPS FOR IMPROVING SLEEP QUALITY
One of the best ways to ensure quality sleeping is to promote a good sleep schedule. When your body is able to rely on a consistent schedule, you’re more likely to journey correctly through those cycles as you slumber. That leads to regular rest that leaves you feeling energetic and ready to tackle your day. Here are some tips for improving your sleep quality and ensuring a good sleep schedule.
COMMIT TO A CONSISTENT SLEEP SCHEDULE WHENEVER POSSIBLE
Sleeping and waking at the same time every day can help lead you to a consistent sleep schedule that ensures you reach the required number of REM cycles nightly. Consider what works best for you and how many hours you need to sleep each night, and then set a schedule accordingly. It can take will power and some getting used to, but once you cement a decent sleep schedule, you’re more likely to reap the rewards of quality rest.
INVEST IN A QUALITY MATTRESS
Without a good foundation, quality sleep may be impossible. After evaluating your personal sleep style, do some research to find what may be the best mattress for you. If you share a bed with someone else, consider a memory foam mattress, which makes it less likely that your partner’s movements will wake you during the night.
CHOOSE BEDDING THAT FITS YOUR SLEEP NEEDS
Once you find a mattress that allows you to sleep well, choose sheets and blankets that serve the same purpose. High-quality sheets that feel good on your skin are worth the investment if you’re a sensitive sleeper. Some people like the feeling of weighted blankets for security while others don’t want anything hot or heavy on them. Whatever you choose, ensure it allows breathability to keep you from sweating and overheating during the night.
ADDRESS ALLERGENS AND OTHER IRRITANTS
Consider investing in an air purifier or other technology to keep you breathing well throughout the night. If you’re sensitive to allergens, air purifiers and hypoallergenic sheets help keep you from waking with sneezes and sniffles. If you have sleep apnea, consider asking your doctor about a CPAP machine for better rest.
CREATE A COOL, DARK ENVIRONMENT
The National Sleep Foundation notes that ideal sleeping temperatures tend to run between 60 and 67 degrees F. A darkened environment also helps your brain slip into sleep mode, so turn off lights and try not to sleep with computer or TV screens on.
AVOID STIMULANTS RIGHT BEFORE BED
Finally, avoid stimulating activity, drinks or foods right before you go to bed. Try to create a calm 20- to 30-minute routine to relax your mind and body so you’re ready for a good night’s rest.
Getting the proper amount of quality sleep promotes long-term physical and mental well being, and its impact on each individual day is significant. Take the time to evaluate your sleeping habits, and make the changes necessary to achieve restful, restorative sleep on a nightly basis.