How much sleep do you really need?

The number of hours you should be sleeping each night is not a set number for everyone but if you find yourself feeling tired throughout the day, there may be a problem.

According to Dr Elise McGlashan, research fellow at the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health at Monash University, not having a healthy sleep pattern is associated with serious health consequences.

“In the long-term, not getting the sleep you need is associated with a whole range of health problems. This includes depression, diabetes and other metabolic problems, heart disease, and neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia,” she told Yahoo News Australia.

According to Dr McGlashan too much sleep can also be an indicator that you need to change some bad habits.

“Extreme fatigue or tiredness can be related to a number of different physical and mental health problems, or could be a sign that your sleep quality perhaps isn’t as good as it could, or should be.”

How much sleep do you need? A woman sleeping with her pet dog.
Sleep is one of three pillars for good health and is just as important as having a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Source: Getty stock

Quality over quantity

Getting a good night’s rest is not as simple as closing your eyes anywhere, it turns out the type type of sleep you get and regularity of your sleep pattern is just as, if not more important as duration.

Dr McGlashan recommends having a set bedtime and wake-time every day, even on your day off.

“When we sleep at irregular times, we are sleeping out of time with our internal ‘body clock’, which feels a lot like jetlag. This can have a lot of negative impacts on our health”.

The National Sleep Foundation also recommends practising sleep hygiene to help you feel refreshed in the morning, and it’s not just about having clean sheets.

Sleep hygiene suggests that you should switch off screens and bright lights to help a develop a bedtime routine and make sure you have a comfortable, dark and cool place to sleep each night.

The foundation also recommends limiting heavy meals, emotional conversations or stressful activities right before bed.

Are naps healthy?

If you tend to have trouble falling asleep at night, Dr McGlashan believes napping during the day can make that worse as you will have less ‘sleep pressure’ when it comes to bedtime.

However, if you generally get to sleep okay, the occasional nap is not necessarily a problem.

How much sleep do you need? A man napping on public transport
If you generally get to sleep easily at night, the occasional nap is not necessarily a problem. Source: Getty stock

Naps should be limited though to avoid that groggy feeling after you wake up, also known as sleep inertia.

“If you need to go right back to work after your nap, try to keep it between 15 and 30 minutes to reduce the likelihood of that happening,” Dr McGlashan suggests.

The older you get, the less sleep you need

As a general rule Dr McGlashan suggests that children require more sleep than adults and by the time you have passed adolescence, you should find yourself in a pattern.

“In general, healthy adults will need between seven and nine hours, children and babies need much more sleep than this, while older adults may find they sleep a little less,” Dr McGlashan said.

How much sleep do you need? children sleeping in the backseat of a car
The older you get, the less sleep you need. Source: Getty stock

Surviving on less sleep

Some people may feel like they don’t have enough hours in the day to get more than seven hours of sleep each night but Dr McGlashan warns that making this a habit could be dangerous, even if you feel you have adapted to less sleep.

“We are not always good at knowing when we are impaired due to fatigue, especially if this has become the ‘new normal’”.

Regularly sleeping only four to five hours can increase your risk for a number of health issues, including “metabolic conditions, cardiovascular health problems, cognitive decline in old age and mental health problems”.

A man using his mobile phone in bed
Limiting your screen time well before bedtime will help you get more sleep. Source: Getty

The magic number

Eight hours of sleep is a commonly thought to be a healthy amount of sleep and Dr McGlashan said the reason is because for most of us, it’s a good place to start.

“Some people may need a little less than this, and others a little more but eight hours is not a bad thing to aim for if you’re not totally sure where you sit,” she said.

Dr McGlashan suggests the best time to figure out how much sleep you actually need is when you are on a holiday.

“You can work out about how much sleep you need by thinking about how long you tend to sleep on holidays, when you don’t have to get up at the same time for work, and don’t need to use an alarm,” she said.

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