How much sleep do you really need?

According to new research, poor sleep is costing the Australian economy more than $66 billion annually. With most of the population feeling sleep deprived, listening to our bodies when they’re screaming out for more shut-eye has never been more important.

I’m not sure about you, but I don’t know anyone who says they get enough sleep. We all lead busy lives, so sleep can sometimes be put at the bottom of the priority pile. Catching up on the weekend can help, but what about getting enough rest each night before a full day of work? Read on to uncover how much sleep you need as an individual, and how you can get more shut-eye each night…

Setting the benchmark

According to Clinical Psychologist and author of LIFEBLOCKERS: The Sleep Edition, Dr. Lillian Nejad, adults need between seven and nine hours a night. “Seven-and-a-half hours would allow for five, full 90-minute sleep cycles. But everyone is different and some people may fall outside of these parameters,” she explains. Some of us say we can function normally after only six or seven hours each night, but while you might feel okay in the present moment, Sleep Coach Cheryl Fingleson advises missing hours regularly can have a cumulative effect over time. “For our biological maintenance we need to have our brain switched off and go into REM sleep – a deep sleep. We essentially need to do this for eight to nine hours, in order for us to be rested enough for the day ahead,” she says.

Am I getting enough?

Sleep is one of our basic human needs. “It’s important for your daily functioning, your emotional well-being and your physical health,” says Dr Nejad, “A chronic lack of sleep can have a detrimental impact on all these areas.” If you find yourself not being able to think clearly, you’re grouchy or feeling anxious, it’s probably a sign you need more shut-eye. You also put yourself at risk of depression if you’re constantly missing out on sleep. So, how do we know if we are getting enough rest to restore our bodies adequately? “Ask yourself, ‘Am I able to wake up without my alarm?’, ‘Do I feel sluggish in the afternoon?’ and ‘Is it hard to wake up of a morning?’”, advises Cheryl. If you answered "yes" to any of these, consider developing a relaxing sleep routine for yourself to follow each evening. “It’s important to self-settle and unwind before bed each night," she advises.

SOS: Save Our Slumber

There are many ways to get your sleep cycle back on track. First, though, you’ll need to identify the reason – or reasons – why you aren’t catching enough Zs. If you have problems falling or staying asleep, try these strategies:

  • Set up for sleep: Dr Nejad says, “Make sure the room is dark, you’ve got a comfortable mattress and your room is the ideal sleep temperature" (17-20 degrees).
  • Cut out caffeine: Coffee or energy drinks can keep you wired long past your bedtime. Exercise can help to wear you out, too.
  • Turn off your brain: Are you having frantic thoughts about the day ahead, or is your mind racing? It’s common to experience anxiety about not getting enough sleep while you're lying in bed of a night. This kind of pressure never helps. Dr Nejad suggests trying to console yourself as best you can. “You may not be at your best with little-to-no sleep, but if you had an objective look at your ability to cope in the past, you will most likely find that you have been able to function to an adequate degree,” she says.
  • Banish blue light: Cheryl says, “Cutting out TV and your smartphone at least half-an-hour before bed will also help your brain to switch off.”
  • Listen to your internal clock. “If you go to bed at the same time every day your body will get used to this, and begin to naturally unwind at this time,” advises Cheryl. “Work back eight or nine hours from when you need to wake up and listen to your body’s natural rhythm,” she says.

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