When it comes to health and wellbeing, we have a million different rules to live by. We’re supposed to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day, but that number keeps changing and nobody is really 100% sure of how many portions we’re supposed to eat now! We’re supposed to drink plenty of water, some say eight different 8oz glasses, some say more. How are we supposed to know the real rules?
There is another number you should hold in your mind too - how much sleep you should be getting on a nightly basis.
Okay, so we’re all different and that means we all need a slightly different amount of sleep every evening. Overall however, the general rule for adults is around the 8 hours mark.
What happens if you don’t get 8 hours sleep every night? One night probably isn’t going to make much of a difference, other than perhaps feeling tired and irritable the following day. When this pattern continues over a long period of time however, the brain starts to react in a different way. The brain cells don’t communicate with each other as well as they are supposed to, the body doesn’t get the chance to heal itself as well as it should, and hormones are affected too.
Your brain releases different amounts of leptin and ghrelin, the hunger and fullness hormones, meaning you’re going to eat more and be hungrier as a result, therefore putting on weight. Your mood is down, you’re more prone to depression and anxiety, and your brain seems to have a slightly different perception of the environment around you, than it would do otherwise.
There are no positive effects of not getting a recommended amount of sleep every night, only detrimental effects.
Let’s look at the recommended amounts of sleep for different age groups, as this does vary across the board. Remember, if you get ten minutes more or less, it’s not going to affect you, but a large difference over a long period of time is certainly going to show effects.
How Much Sleep do You Need?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, the following hours of sleep every night are recommended:
- From 0 to 3 months of age - 14-17 hours daily (includes naps and nighttime sleep)
- From 4 - 11 months - 12-15 hours daily (includes naps and nighttime sleep)
- From 1 - 2 years - 11-14 hours daily (includes naps and nighttime sleep)
- From 3 - 5 years - 10-13 hours daily (can also include naps, if they have them)
- From 6 - 13 years - 9-11 hours per night
- From 14 - 17 years - 8-10 hours per night
- From 18 - 64 years - 7-9 hours, with an average of 8 being the usual amount per night
- From 65 years and over - 7-8 hours per night
The problem is, we live in an age where we’re constantly ‘switched on’ and connected. We’re told we should pursue our dreams, go out, and don’t waste a second of our lives. That’s true, of course, but it shouldn’t come at the detriment of your body’s needed sleep amounts! For instance, young adults may have a ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ attitude, e.g. wanting to out and see the world, go out with friends, stay out all night, etc, but over time this is going to severely impact on their health and wellbeing. As a result, low mood, depression, anxiety, and problems focusing at work are going to start affecting them, causing major problems at a relatively young age.
A Sleep Debt to be Paid Back
Many people think that if they lose sleep during the week, they can make up for it at the weekend, when they’re not working and have the freedom to simply sleep all day if they want to. That’s not a good idea!
By doing this, you’re creating a completely haywire situation for your brain. A sleeping pattern is called that for a reason, this means you have a general time for sleeping (around the same time every night), and a general time for waking. This is why children have a bed time and a nap time, to create a routine and in order to avoid irritability and health problems. When we become adults, we seem to think this doesn’t matter anymore, but that couldn’t be further from the truth!
A long-term sleeping issue which involves late night, long lay ins on a regular basis, waking up several times during the night, forcing yourself to wake up too early, and depriving yourself in general of enough sleep per night causes what is known as a ‘sleep debt’. We all know that debts in general are quite hard to pay back, but this one in particular is very difficult to settle in full
The reasons for disturbed sleep are far-reaching, and can be anything from doing it on purpose, e.g. going out late, partying, getting up early for work, etc, to sleep conditions, such as insomnia, restless legs syndrome, sleep apnoea, problems with hormone levels, and other problems, such as depression and anxiety. A person with depression and anxiety, either one or both, can either sleep too much as a result of the condition, or not sleep enough. It can go either way, but both are as damaging as one another.
What to do If You Can’t Sleep
Due to the fact that sleep deprivation severely affects brain function, concentration, mental health and physical health, you should be placing the utmost importance on making sure that you get enough sleep on a nightly basis. As before, if you have one night of broken sleep, this isn’t too much of a concern, but if it continues on, you need to consider that a red flag.
Ask yourself whether you think you get enough sleep. How many hours do you actually get every night on average? Do you have lay ins at the weekend? Do you stay out late and go to sleep very late sometimes? If you do, ask yourself how you feel the following day. Probably irritable, moody, down, fuzzy in the brain, can’t focus or concentrate well, a little clumsy, hungry for no reason, and you spend most of the day yawning, wanting to go back to sleep. Basically, if you find yourself tired a lot of the time during the day, that is a very obvious sign that you’re not getting enough sleep at night.
If you think this is due to a condition, you should go ahead and have a chat with your doctor, and seek out a diagnosis and treatment. Overall however, there are some very successful self-help tricks you can try:
- Deep relaxation - Try listening to relaxing music before bed, natural sounds, even meditation if you can master it
- Avoid stimulation - Don’t lay in bed with your phone, scrolling through social media, don’t check your emails, and don’t watch horror or action films! Avoid stimulating your brain in the hours leading up to bed time
- Establish a routine - Pick a time when you’re going to go to bed and make sure you stick to it on a nightly basis, even at the weekends if at all possible
- Avoid caffeine containing drinks - Coffee before bed isn’t a good thing, and neither is cola. Stick to warm, milky drinks and herbal teas if at all possible
- A warm bath - A warm bath before bed is a very relaxing thing to do, and could be enough to make you tired and nod off to sleep
- Check your sleeping environment - Is the room the right temperature? A room which is too hot or too cold will affect sleep, as well as the amount of ventilation. Are the bed and pillows comfortable? Do you have enough blankets? Some people like the feel of a heavier duvet or blanket, as this can help to release the dopamine chemical in the brain, a little like a virtual hug. This can sometimes be enough to make you fall to sleep, and weighted blankets are often suggested for restless legs syndrome
- Leave a notebook and pen at the side of your bed - Do not sleep with your phone under your pillow! You’ll only be tempted to keep checking it. Instead, place a notebook and pen at the side of your bed and if you wake up having remembered something that you don’t want to forget, simply scribble it down and deal with it in the morning
- Set an alarm - One reason for not sleeping is a fear of sleeping in. Set your alarm and test it out beforehand, taking away that fear
By knowing how much sleep you’re supposed to be getting, and taking steps to avoid sleep deprivation, you’re automatically improving the quality of sleep you’re getting. This will start to pay off any sleep debt you have accumulated and over time you should notice that you start to feel infinitely better.
Never take sleep for granted, your body and brain need it for a healthy life!