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Published on June 29, 2021

How Much Sleep Do You Need? (Recommended Hours by Age)

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How Much Sleep Do You Need? (Recommended Hours by Age)

“I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”  This seems to be a popular mantra amongst the go-getters of the world. In fact, I’d be willing to wager you’ve heard of at least one highly successful person who prides themselves on their ability to consistently crush goals with as little as three or four hours of sleep per night.[1]

You might have made a similar statement yourself at times when life feels too chaotic or exhilarating to even think of cutting into productive wakeful hours to catch up on some Zzzzs. If others are succeeding with minimal sleep, then perhaps you can, too. Yet, you may continue to wonder, “how much sleep do I need to maintain high-achiever status without snoozing my life away?”

The key to answering this question is to find your own personal sweet spot that factors in your optimal restorative sleep duration, current lifestyle, and sustainable level of daily function.

In this article, I’ll discuss a simple 3-step process to explore and discover how much sleep you need to achieve the deceptively elusive trifecta of high performance, happiness, and health.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Step 1: Determine Your Target

Sleep health resources, including the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and SleepFoundation.org, lay out basic tables of how much sleep you need with recommended hours by age.[2][3]

The information varies ever so slightly from site to site, so for simplicity’s sake, I’ve decided to present it as follows:

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  • Ages 18 to 64: seven to nine hours per night
  • Ages 65+: seven to eight hours per night

These ranges may seem straightforward at first glance. However, when we attempt to integrate them into real life, they can end up feeling vague, which is less than helpful.

For example, let’s say you are an adult in the 18 to 64 age range. Your circumstances require that you get out of bed by 6 am each morning, so, according to these recommendations, you need to be asleep anywhere between 9 pm and 11 pm every night. Two hours difference might appear insignificant on paper, but when we are using this guideline to establish a sleep schedule, there’s actually quite a bit of wiggle room for personalized adjustment.

But how do you know what is the right bedtime for you?

When you are ready to be more deliberate and strategic with your sleep habits, there are some important questions to consider regarding your current bedtime. Do you choose according to a preconceived notion of what your bedtime should be? Do you decide based on how many tasks you could potentially complete during those two hours? Do you take a passive approach and just keep plugging away at to-dos until you start to doze off each night?

Next, ask yourself how well your existing routine (or lack thereof) has been working for you. Addressing this is the first step toward effective change. The following steps will help you to pinpoint your ideal number of sleep hours even further.

Step 2: Narrow Down Your Needs

Adding to the ambiguity of these sleep recommendation charts are the broad age ranges listed.

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Like many people, I am more in-tune with my sleep needs now than when I was younger. In my 20s, life was all about making rent, partying with friends, and clambering to figure out my place and purpose in an adult world that I felt ill-equipped to navigate. Now, in my 40s, my lifestyle revolves around homeschooling a teen and tween, cultivating my gifts and skills to enhance my career, strengthening the bonds of a two-decade relationship with my partner, and learning how to master the advanced adulting skills I used to think were for “old people.”

Although I probably did need more sleep than I was getting in early adulthood, the stresses and responsibilities of my present lifestyle require even more intentional rest and recovery to thrive in all I do. If you take a moment to reflect, you might just find that the same rings true for you.

Consider all of the elements involved in your current stage of life. Do you still have children at home? Are they younger (and, therefore, highly demanding of your time and energy), or more self-sufficient?

Maybe your own kids are grown and now you’re a caregiver for your grandchildren. Perhaps you don’t have kids at all. You’re a caretaker for your aging parents, or you are one of the more than 10 percent of multigenerational caregiving adults in America who are responsible for the simultaneous care of your kids and your parents. Interestingly, this particular segment of the population is known to sleep almost a half-hour less each night than others in the same age group.[4]

Whatever’s left of your attention is probably scattered between personal and professional growth endeavors, working to create security for your family’s future, and deepening the relationships that matter most to you.

It may be tempting to look at all of these duties collectively as a valid reason to opt for less sleep. After all, it is often our busiest seasons that preclude us from having space in our schedules for rest, right? I invite you to look at this from a different angle. Getting adequate restorative sleep supports your physical, mental, emotional, and even spiritual well-being.[5]

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But you are not only responsible for that. Your well-being is paramount to sustaining the daily energy, performance, and patience required for showing up as your best self in every aspect of your life. When you consider the consequences of not getting sufficient sleep and assess honestly, it is easier to determine which end of the sleep range to aim for.

Step 3: Expose Sneaky Sleep Deprivation Symptoms

As you can see, guidelines are not always the rigid cookie-cutter rules we sometimes perceive or expect them to be. Instead, it can be beneficial to think of them as reference points that assist in creating your personal baseline.

With this in mind, how can you finetune even further? This is where a solid practice of self-awareness makes all the difference. Understanding how much sleep you need requires the ability to pay attention to your brain and body cues. These are sometimes extremely subtle. They can also be seemingly unrelated to sleep, so it takes commitment and a bit of patient curiosity to master.

Here are some signs that your current sleep regimen is not aligned with your needs:

  • Cravings for caffeine and/or carb-heavy foods (bread, cake, cookies, crackers, potatoes)
  • Increased appetite
  • Feeling cranky (either for no apparent reason, or more than seems rational)
  • Grogginess or feeling unrested upon waking
  • Forgetfulness or distractibility
  • Decreased inspiration or motivation
  • Lowered endurance during workouts or routine tasks
  • Daytime drowsiness

If you struggle with any of these symptoms, this is a clear indication that your sleep needs are not being met. After taking the first two steps toward finding your ideal amount of sleep, it’s time to practice maintaining your decided bedtime and adjust as needed.

Keeping a sleep journal can help you to create clarity around any persistent symptoms. On a positive note, it can also spotlight improvements that are starting to develop. Either way, tracking is an important tool for dialing in your ideal amount of sleep.

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Bottom Line

It is estimated that sleep-related problems affect 50 to 70 million Americans of all ages and socioeconomic classes.[6] These issues can range from major health disorders, like sleep apnea and chronic insomnia, to benign symptoms that we tend to accept as just a regular part of life as we age. However severe or mundane, these nuisances can negatively impact our productivity, mood, happiness, accomplishment, interpersonal skills, and overall quality of life.

By finetuning the professional guidelines in accordance with our own unique needs, we can ensure that we won’t succumb to the pitfalls associated with not getting as much sleep as we need.

Want to know one more perk to proactively crafting our optimal sleep routines? Adequate quality sleep supports our longevity. Thus, by releasing the misguided ideal of pushing off sleep for when we die, we can rest assured we’re helping to postpone that undesired state of eternal slumber for as long as possible.

Learn More About Your Sleep Quality

Featured photo credit: Benjamin Combs via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leah Borski

Certified NeuroHealth Coach, specializing in Stress Management and Integrative Wellness Lifestyle for Work-Life Balance

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Last Updated on January 18, 2022

How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People

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How to Improve Digestion: 6 Ways For Stressful People

Does your digestive system seem off lately? Or has it been like that for a while? Have you been experiencing feelings of stress or burnout? If the answer to both these questions is yes, it could be the stress that’s driving your digestive system out of whack. You might also be wondering how you can improve your digestion.

Studies show that your stress levels can wreak havoc on both your mind and body.[1] One of the biggest ways that stress can impair your body’s condition is by disrupting the performance of your digestive system, resulting in a variety of adverse health consequences.

How Stress Affects Digestion

Some of the most common digestive issues caused by stress include heartburn, acid reflux, ulcer, diarrhea, and indigestion. Stress can also indirectly trigger the development of irritable bowel syndrome by affecting your immune system.

Researchers have also shown that individuals already suffering from IBS tend to have frequent flare-ups of systems when they are under considerable stress.[2] Conditions such as IBS and other gastrointestinal tract diseases are considered stress-sensitive disorders. Effective treatment usually entails the patient learning to cope with and manage their stress levels.[3]

A scientific review also discovered that there could be a strong correlation between high levels of stress and eating disorders, such as overeating and obesity.[4] When an individual is experiencing stress, their adrenal glands release cortisol, which is also known as the stress hormone. This hormone is known to increase appetite, leading to overeating and other related eating disorders. People with high cortisol levels are more likely to consume foods with high fat and/or sugar content, resulting in more digestive issues and weight gain.

Effectively reducing your stress levels can help reduce inflammation in your gastrointestinal tract and lower the sensitivity of your gut. Moreover, lower stress levels contribute to easing any gastrointestinal distress you may be experiencing, while at the same time optimizing nutritional uptake.

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If you find that your stress levels are high affecting your digestion, here are some tips that can help heal your gut.

1. Increase Your Level of Physical Activity

One way to boost your digestion and, at the same time, lower your stress levels is by engaging in moderate physical activity regularly. Physical activity helps increase blood flow to the different parts of your digestive system, which makes it easier for food to move along the digestive tract while improving the efficiency of the digestive muscles.

This movement of food along the digestive tract is known as peristalsis. Common signs that your peristalsis is not working optimally include constant constipation and diarrhea, and in some extreme situations, motility disorder.

Movement and exercise are also important in triggering the release of endorphins, which help relieve tension and are considered natural pain relievers. Endorphins are also quite effective at boosting one’s sleep quality, which is essential in combatting high levels of stress.

Physical activities that are known to improve digestion include regular running, walking, and biking. Yoga poses that focus on improving posture and alignment are also helpful in easing and eradicating gastrointestinal distress and act as a potent stress reliever.

2. Consider Foods That Are Natural Stress Relievers

Scientists have also discovered that some foods naturally contain mood-boosting properties. Consuming such foods can help relieve your stress symptoms while still providing your body with critical nutrients for optimal health.

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Almonds, for instance, contain high levels of magnesium, a mineral that has been proven to help manage cortisol levels in the body. Almonds also contain high levels of vitamin B, which, together with magnesium, help in increasing the production of serotonin, a powerful mood stabilizer and feel-good hormone.

Moreover, low levels of serotonin in the body have been linked to the development of irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, and duodenal ulcers, as well as episodes of bloating, cramping, constipation, and diarrhea.[5]

Dark chocolate is another type of snack that can help boost your digestion and bring down your stress levels. It is considered a highly efficient mood booster, but it also has a direct impact on your body’s digestive system. For starters, dark chocolate has a high concentration of flavonoids, a major antioxidant agent.

This chocolate also has high fiber content, mainly because of the cocoa used in production. When the gut bacteria ferment the antioxidants and fiber contained in the dark chocolate, anti-inflammatory compounds are released.[6] These compounds are not only essential in fighting inflammation within your digestive system, but they also play a crucial role in improving cardiovascular function and combatting inflammation-related disorders throughout your body.

Cocoa has also been shown to trigger the production of more healthy microbes in the colon, a further boost to your digestive system. It is also highly recommended to eat foods that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics. These compounds are critical in the production of good gut bacteria.

The abundance of good bacteria in the gut is essential for proper digestion of food and controlling inflammation within your digestive system and other parts of the body. Examples of foods rich in probiotics include yogurt, kombucha, kefir, tempeh, and natto.[7] Fruits and vegetables rich in prebiotics include the likes of onions, asparagus, garlic, and bananas. Consider making these gut-boosting foods part of your regular diet for enhanced digestive performance.

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3. Try Probiotic Supplements

Probiotics can also help improve your digestion. If you find that you don’t like probiotic foods or find them difficult to obtain, try a probiotic supplement instead. Research has shown probiotics to have remarkable effects on digestion, stress levels, immunity, and much more.[8]

Look for a probiotic that uses time-release tablets as these are more likely to deliver the probiotic bacteria safely past your stomach acid. Most probiotics in capsules are damaged or destroyed before they reach your intestines.

4. Avoid Foods That Can Impair Digestion

Just as there are good foods that can help improve digestion and simultaneously provide stress relief, there are foods that can wreak havoc on your digestive system.

Remember, when you are experiencing high levels of stress, your appetite increases, and you are more inclined to consume foods with a lot of (added) sugar and fats. Both these things are known to increase inflammation in people’s digestive systems, resulting in a variety of GI issues like constant bloating, diarrhea, and excessive gas.

Other major food culprits that can disrupt your digestive function include processed bread, white chocolate, coffee, and highly acidic foods.

5. Identify and Avoid Your Stress Triggers

An examination into what triggers your high-stress levels can help you identify these factors, and allow you to mitigate their impact on your physical and mental well-being.

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Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that helps you uncover the source of your negative thinking as well as the triggers that cause your stress levels to elevate. CBT has been shown to reduce stress in individuals with IBS. Consequently, these individuals suffered fewer IBS symptoms. This demonstrates the effectiveness of therapy in minimizing stress, which then directly boosts the digestive health of the individual.[9]

Meditation and mindfulness are also powerful techniques that can help you ease your stress levels. Studies have also shown that these practices can also help ease inflammation across the body, including along your gastrointestinal tract. Meditating as well as doing some breathing exercises before eating can help relax you, which in turn allows your digestive system to function optimally.

6. Quit Smoking and Excessive Consumption of Alcohol

Our stress coping techniques can also significantly impair our digestive function. If you are using cigarettes and/or alcohol to cope with your stress, you are inadvertently introducing a host of dangerous chemicals that will affect your digestive health.

Smoking and alcohol consumption have been linked to a variety of GI diseases including heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, peptic ulcers, gallstones, pancreatitis, liver diseases, and Crohn’s disease.[10] It’s imperative that you look for healthier stress coping mechanisms, such as meditation and exercise to avoid exposing your digestive system to dangerous compounds.

Final Thoughts

If you’re wondering how to improve your digestion, the first thing you should know is that your stress levels actively impact how well your digestive system functions. Addressing your stress triggers, through exercise, therapy, and physical activity will help bring down your stress levels and allow your body’s digestive system to function optimally.

Moreover, consume foods that are good for your digestion, including foods rich in magnesium, vitamin B, serotonin, fiber, and antioxidants. Lastly, avoid stress coping mechanisms that put your digestive system in jeopardy, like smoking or excessive consumption of alcohol.

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More Tips on How to Improve Digestion

Featured photo credit: Eugene Chystiakov via unsplash.com

Reference

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