How much sleep do I really need?
We all know that we need to sleep. And we all know that we probably need to sleep more than we do. But why? Sleep is important both physically and mentally; it allows our muscles to recover, we store memories in the brain, we can imprint our movement patterns. But did you know poor sleep is also correlated to an increased health risk including high blood pressure, diabetes and depression? Or that poor sleep is linked to increased bodyweight? Or even that not enough sleep can shorten your lifespan? Despite this, NHS statistics suggest 1 in every 3 people struggle with their sleep. During lockdown, a whopping 70% of people have reported one or more new sleep challenges.
Whilst everybody is different, the recommended amount of sleep per night is between seven and nine hours for adults (Hirshkowitz et al, 2015). Maybe you’re lucky and feel well rested after six. The number of times we’ve heard ‘But I only need five hours sleep’, it’s almost like a badge of honour. Getting as little sleep as possible is out, getting your eight hours is in. Is there a possibility you’d feel even better with an additional hour?
How do I get more sleep?
It’s all well and good knowing that more sleep is good for us but how do we actually get more? How do we fall asleep more quickly? Chances are, if you’ve got young kids who struggle to sleep themselves, it’s going to be a bumpy ride for a few years. But if you are actually a “revenge bedtime procrastinator” (check out if this term applies to you here!) who thinks they haven’t got enough time but really could just stop one extra episode of Netflix earlier, then this is for you. Getting more sleep starts well before bedtime. Throughout the day, there are plenty of steps we can take to set ourselves up for a good night of sleep.
Top five tips for better sleep
- Maximise light exposure in the mornings, minimise in the evening. Use a sunrise alarm clock to brighten your morning and an eye mask at night to cut out light.
- Keep your room cool; our body temperature naturally drops in the lead up to bedtime to signal it’s time to wind down.
- Try using a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets mimic the technique known as deep pressure stimulation which is suggested to reduce anxiety. It’s suggested the blanket should be 10% of bodyweight.
- Eat your dinner nice and early; eating too late can keep us awake when our body should be resting. If you need a late-night snack, aim for foods high in tryptophan – a glass of milk, edamame, chicken. Steer clear of cheese – whilst it might not be directly responsible for your nightmares, it contains compounds that can increase alertness that lead to a troubled night sleep!
- Limit caffeine consumption after midday – caffeine stimulates the nervous system and can stay elevated in the system for 6 to 8 hours, not the ideal set up for a good night of sleep! I used to drink coffee until 5/6pm and fall asleep quickly. However, the sleep quality has dramatically increased since cutting that back to lunchtime.
Getting a good night of sleep starts well before bedtime so if you think you have a great evening routine, maybe now is the time to reflect on what you do during the day that might be helping or hindering your night. If you’re interested in exploring your own sleep even further, talk to your coach. They might suggest using a sleep diary so you can have the most informed conversation and guide you to make the best choices to optimise your sleep. Check out our health assessment service to learn more about how your body works.