“How many hours of sleep do I need?” This is a commonly asked question.
The subject of sleep and how much of it one needs has been controversial over the last ten years, especially in this digital-obsessed era we’re living in. You might be surprised by what science is now saying about how many hours of sleep you need. However, I’d like to mention, it’s easy not to get enough sleep, especially if our sleep patterns are wacky or out of sorts.
Without a healthy sleep routine, it’s nearly impossible to get those needed hours. I know this because I struggled with insomnia for almost a year. After I evaluated the way I was spending my evenings, I realized that I was only getting five or six hours of sleep, not even. Science says that if you want to wake up revitalized and refreshed, you must focus on how much shut-eye time you’re actually getting.
Understanding Your Circadian Rhythm and Why You Should
The National Sleep Foundation describes the circadian rhythm as:
“the body’s internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.”
Essentially, the clock is in your brain and thrives on a regular sleep pattern. So, if you’re someone who stays up throughout the night, you’re setting yourself up to feel lousy or rundown at certain times the next day.
If you typically have a dip in energy levels in the afternoon, that’s a sign that your circadian rhythm is off. This would explain why at 2:00 or 3:00 P.M., you feel the dreaded down slump and need a caffeine booster. It’s your brain begging you to regulate your sleep pattern (not go out and get more coffee to stay alert).
Once the sun goes down and gets dark outside, our brains, the pineal gland to be specific, begins producing and secreting melatonin. Light exposure, such as from our phones, interrupts this process. Thus, the interruption comes with a consequence. The longer we prolong or intervene in our brain’s natural abilities to prepare us for sleep, the longer our dip in energy during the day lasts. It’s worth it to pay attention to these spurts of energy changes and why they’re occurring.
Deep Sleep is essential to health and well-being. That’s when your muscles repair, your body replenishes and revitalizes your immune system, keeping it afloat. But we need enough deep sleep. Ensuring that you get the appropriate amount of sleep is essential if you want to prevent illness and maintain wellness.
The Consequences of Limited Hours of Sleep
There are people out there who think that it’s okay to get only five or six hours of sleep or less. Someone actually said to me, “I’m great on six hours; you sleep plenty when you’re dead.”
The thing is, people believe six hours is enough and it’s not. Lack of shut-eye time leads to numerous consequences.
When I dealt with insomnia, I developed some symptoms which I noticed after just two nights of lost hours of sleep. I experienced hair loss, muscle tightness, and my sinuses would swell the skin around my eyes and cheekbones. Others noticed these ailments and overtime they can become chronic issues. Your risk of heart disease will radically increase.
Additionally, I found myself losing energy as early as 12:00 noon and having spurts of energy at different times of the day. Those spurts of energy only lasted under an hour. And those dips would come, and I’d be in the middle of work yearning for a long nap (I abused naps, by the way, and snoozed too long).
Consequently, the naps or lengthy siestas muddled my sleep pattern. You don’t want to nap for too long, though a fifteen-minute nap is quite rejuvenating.
As I stated earlier, our brains thrive on patterns, mostly sleep patterns or a regimen. It is something I now take seriously–having a regimen and hygiene schedule that sets me up for a smooth next day.
How to Develop a Healthy Sleep Regimen
Sleep regimens promote good, strong health. The amount of time you spend planning your days, you should spend the same amount of time preparing for bedtime.
No matter how busy my schedule becomes, I make the effort to wind down after I’ve had my dinner. Come 7:00 P.M., I’m doing something meditative or meditating. Yoga is another activity I do in the evening. It’s so calming and relaxing.
Since sleep is something that can easily become a problem for me, I try to make the effort to prevent insomnia from rearing its ugly head. We creatives though, can be insomniacs at times. Regardless if you have health problems or not, a bad sleep regimen will very quickly cost your physical and emotional health and in not much time.
By engaging in meditative activities or simply spending an hour doing Yoga is the best way to quiet busy thoughts and ease into the next chapter of your day or night.
Some other things I do in the evening is painting, cleaning or organizing; projects that I don’t get to do during my workday. I like to put my brain to work for at least a half-hour with the goal of tiring me out. I don’t recommend doing overly stimulating things such as sitting on social media or staring at your phone’s screen for too long.
For me, it can be a mental fight to put that darn cell phone down and rest my eyes. Our brains easily mistake the blue light on our screens for sunlight and will confuse the process of secreting melatonin or serotonin. At sundown, our brains are the first to prepare for sleep but how we conduct our lifestyle should be a priority. You must allow a window, maybe an hour in the evening, to decompress and relax.
How To Regulate Your Sleep Schedule
To overcome insomnia or sleep disturbances I had, I focused on maintaining a sleep schedule. Between 10:00 P.M. and 7:00 A.M. is a healthy regulatory sleep pattern. I am an early bird usually and like to rise at 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning.
I find myself going to bed some nights at 9:30-10:00 P.M. and rising at 6:30 A.M. and I feel very refreshed on that schedule. And, I have energy all throughout the day and don’t want to take naps once the 2 or 3 P.M. afternoon arrives. A regular sleep patterns lessens the intensity of those down slump episodes or eliminates them all together.
The energy dips I used to battle with have gone away. On a solid number of hours of sleep, our energy levels don’t fluctuate so much or as drastically.
I know my circadian rhythm is fully tuned when I wake up in the morning with no alarm. That’s right. I don’t like greeting a morning with an alarm my brain might mistake for a fire truck siren. In fact, science now says alarms are not good for our mental or emotional health.
Why Alarms Are Unhealthy and What to Do If You Need One
A sleep cycle typically lasts ninety minutes. Alarms, if they go off too soon while you’re still in this sleep cycle, can disrupt a natural process which will determine how awake and refreshed you’ll feel upon rising. The price of this is bigger than you may realize.
Interrupting a sleep cycle can leave you feeling groggy all day or as if you’d spent the previous night partying until 4:00 in the morning. I call this a ‘sleep hangover.’
Needless to say, sleep hangovers are unpleasant. It will take your brain and energy levels loads of time to sync up and become regular again. I blamed my issues with fatigue on the alarm, and rightfully so.
These days, I rise naturally and doing so has reduced my fatigue and brain fog. Some mornings, if I have a lot on my plate, I may set an alarm by choosing soft music or positive affirmations. You don’t need to open your eyes to the sound of a voice telling you that you’re awesome, but why not?
If you desperately need an alarm and don’t trust yourself without a wake-up call of some kind, get one that maybe plays soothing music or repeats a meditative mantra of your choosing. Apps on your phone can do this.
If you’re prone to insomnia, I wouldn’t recommend sleeping near an electronic device. Instead, put your phone at the opposite end of your room. That way, when it goes off, you’ll be forced to get out of bed.
How Many Hours of Sleep Should You Get?
The hours of sleep you should get depends on you. Six or seven is no longer enough, and science is now saying to get at least eight or nine. On nine hours, your brain has successfully processed all the sleep cycles necessary for optimal cognitive functioning.
You must hit all the stages so you don’t feel like a walking zombie the next day. If you’re not with the program, people will notice and lack of sleep can result in declining performance at work.
Lack of sleep also affects how sharp and quick your mind responds to situations in every setting of your life. Memory is also one of those things. In just about every career, we rely on our memory. And let’s be real. A lot of the time, life is a test of how good we are at remembering details of things. The next time you find yourself saying, “It’s all right if I work really late tonight and wake up early the next morning.”
No matter how much you think you’ve got it all together on five or six hours of sleep, keep that up and you’ll find yourself having a lot of costly oopsies throughout your day.
Burnout is more detrimental to your health, career, and overall life than you may realize until something irreversible occurs. You don’t want it to reach that point when you’ve done something you can’t take back because you were exhausted or wiped out.
Nine hours of sleep is what you should strive for. However, I know how life can interfere. A solid night of sleep can help you manage any stresses life can or maybe is throwing at you.
If you’re anything like me and your mind is constantly buzzing with one thing to the next, create an effective sleep routine–one that promotes a peaceful night of sleep.
And if you’re someone who has to use their cell phone during the night, turn off the blue light and dim that screen. But remember that those nine hours of sleep and the time you spend in the couple of hours beforehand will make or break tomorrow.
Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com