How much sleep is enough?

Getting enough sleep is vital for improved health and wellbeing. When you don’t get enough sleep, getting through the day can feel like a mammoth feat. You can feel groggy and irritable and like you cannot face the day. If you continually don’t get the right amount of sleep then studies suggest that you could be doing long-term harm to yourself.

Studies show that getting the right amount of sleep is linked to:

  • Reduced risk of depression
  • Reduced risk of anxiety
  • Reduced risk of diabetes
  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Reduced risk of stroke
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Reduced risk of dementia
  • Increased immunity
  • Improved memory

Lady arms stretched in a summer meadow enjoying the sunrise

How much sleep is enough?

You might have heard that 8 hours is the right amount of sleep, but that isn’t true or helpful. Our sleep needs change as we age and there is a range of how much sleep you might need at each life stage. Getting too little sleep as well as getting too much sleep is associated with poor health outcomes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep durations in a 24 hour period for people at different ages:

0-3 months - 14-17 hours
4-11 months - 12-15 hours
1-2 years - 11-14 hours
3-5 years - 10-13 hours
6-13 years - 9-11 hours
14-17 years - 8-10 hours
18-64 years - 7-9 hours
65+ years - 7-8 hours

If you are an adult who needs 9 hours of sleep but you are only getting 8 hours (because you read somewhere that 8 was the magic number) you will be constantly tired. Also, if you only need 7 hours of sleep, but you are trying to get 8 each night, it is likely you will struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep because you simply don’t need to get 8 hours of sleep each day.

Interestingly, children who do not get the recommended amount of sleep for their age don’t grow as tall as their peers who do get the right amount of sleep. While we sleep, we secrete a growth hormone which makes our bodies grow, and if we don’t get enough sleep then we won’t have enough growth hormone to grow to our full potential.

Lady sleeping on a pillow

How much sleep you need also changes through the year and on your health and activity levels. If you are dealing with an illness, it is likely that you will need more sleep than usual. If you are a very active athlete, then you will also need more sleep than the average person. We also tend to sleep longer in the winter with its longer nights and we sleep for less time in the summer where there is more daylight.

What happens if you aren’t getting enough sleep?

If you aren’t getting the recommended amount of sleep each night, it might be a good idea to look at why?

Are you prioritising your sleep?

It is very easy to put other things in life first at the expense of your sleep. Taking care of children, household chores and work often take priority over self-care, however these will lead in the longer term to you not being as healthy or productive as you could be. Remember, taking care of yourself means that you will be a better version of you for everyone around you.

Revenge sleep procrastination

Over the last 18 months especially, a phenomena known as revenge sleep procrastination has emerged. This is where people put off going to bed so that they can do activities at night that they don’t have time for during the day. Often this includes watching a television show that you want to watch, or scrolling through social media, which you may feel you can’t do during the day while you are with other people in your household. With more people working from home all day, there has been less time to ourselves (e.g. while commuting or in an empty house) leading to the perception that you have less time to do the things that you want to do during the daytime.

Juniper Metal Brass and white Bed

If you are not making your sleep a priority, then think of getting a good night sleep in the same way that you do getting sufficient exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet. Getting enough sleep each day should be a priority for your health and wellbeing – something that you want to do for your health rather than a chore or a luxury.

What to do if you can’t sleep?

Often people know how important sleep is but they struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep. This is known as insomnia. If you are struggling to get enough sleep then there are a number of possible reasons for this ranging from stress to physical comfort at night.

Stress and sleep

When you are stressed, you produce adrenaline and cortisol which actively stop you from going to sleep. You might find your mind whirring with worries and never-ending to do lists or wake up feeling stressed and panicked. Taking time to wind down before bed, doing things to relax during the day, and reducing the things that are stressing you will help to calm your body and mind and lead to an easier night’s sleep.

Physical comfort

It is important to have a comfortable mattress on which to sleep so that your body can be relaxed during the night. If your mattress is too old, too hard, or too soft for your body type and sleeping position then you will likely experience muscle aches and back pain during the night leading to a disturbed night sleep and not feeling refreshed in the morning. If you have put on weight or recently started sleeping with a bed partner this may mean that your old mattress will no longer be suitable. Also, mattresses have a natural lifespan of around eight years and if your mattress is much older than that it is unlikely to be supporting you adequately through the night. You can explore the range of And So To Bed mattresses here and speak to an expert to help advise you on the right kind of mattress for you.

In addition to choosing the right mattress, the number and type of pillows that you choose can also affect your comfort during the night. A good pillow should hold your head in the correct alignment as if you were standing upright. If you are a side sleeper then you will likely need a slightly higher and more supportive pillow than somebody who sleeps on their back.

Vispring Pillow

DR LINDSAY BROWNING is the sleep amabasador for And So To Bed and author of self-help sleep book, NAVIGATING SLEEPLESSNESS. You can get your copy as an ebook on KINDLE, or in print from AMAZON or WATERSTONES.

Posted by Dr Lindsay Browning
30th September 2021

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