Do you struggle with a lack of sleep on a regular basis? Or perhaps feel like you are not really sure how much sleep you should actually be getting every night?
Sleep is a function that the human body needs and actually craves in order to keep us alive and well. Without enough sleep, we would ultimately die.
Although we humans do go to sleep every night, so many of us, both male and female, are actually not getting the amount of quality sleep that our bodies need so badly.
Without an adequate amount of sleep on a regular basis, we can develop some pretty serious health issues, both physical and mental, that will harm our daily lives quite significantly.
So what exactly is sleep, why do we need so much of it and how can we get more of it? If you are struggling to get quality sleep on a regular basis, or are finding that you feel lethargic, sleepy or lazy during the day, or maybe you are gaining weight or experiencing some health issues, then check out our advice on sleep to find out what you can do to improve your quality of sleep and ultimately improve your quality of life.
Why Is Sleep So Important?
What exactly happens when we sleep? Sleep affects many things in our life, including how we feel, look, act and perform tasks on a daily basis.
Why? Because when we fall into our nightly slumber, our bodies work hard beneath our sub consciousness to re-energise, rejuvenate and repair our brain and bodily functions.
Without enough sleep, we are left feeling only partially refreshed, meaning some tasks we attempt to carry out during the day will be harder than others.
Unfortunately, the modern fast-paced, western way of life means that many of us actually struggle with getting a regular solid night’s sleep on a regular basis. But this needs to change.
Why? Because getting good quality sleep is fundamentally linked to your overall state of wellbeing. Sleep is actually just as important as other fundamentals of life, including eating, drinking, exercising and breathing.
And like these, it needs to be done daily, and done well. Although you can probably get by for a few weeks on less sleep than required, you won’t be able to keep it up without crashing, or even experiencing some pretty dire health consequences that could have been avoided had you been getting enough sleep.
So why do those of us who struggle with sleep pretty much ignore what is detrimental to our health? Because we often don’t realise how intertwined sleep and health really are.
Sleep deprivation can lead to a whole list of health complications including weight gain, a weakened immune system, an increase in the possibility of stroke or heart disease, diabetes and can even play a role in the development of depression and mental health issues.
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
The simple answer here is that adults are recommended to have between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night in order to maintain mental and physical health.
But actually, the specific amount of sleep can differ quite significantly between individuals. There are a number of factors that come into play when determining how much sleep you should be getting.
These include age, current health status, weight, sleep quality and more. Age plays a major role. Think about it, babies need around 14-17 hours of sleep per day, toddlers need around 12-14, and teenagers need roughly 8-10 hours.
The older you get, the less sleep you tend to need – if you are in good health of course. For example, olders adults (let’s say 65+) will probably be ok with 7 hours, whilst a 25 year old may still benefit from the full 9 hours to feel rested.
But, you still need to take into consideration the other factors we mentioned above, including current health status, your weight and your quality of sleep throughout the night. So how do you know if you are getting the right amount of sleep?
Well, do you wake up before your alarm on a regular basis (and not because you need to use the bathroom or any other reason that has disturbed your sleep)? And do you fall asleep in around 15-20 minutes when you go to bed?
If the answer to both is yes, then you are getting enough sleep. Your body is waking you up naturally in the morning because it has had rested sufficiently.
On the other hand, if you are feeling extremely tired before getting into bed, sleeping until your alarm wakes you up AND finding it very difficult to get up to that alarm, then you need to come to terms with the fact that you probably are not getting the amount of sleep that your body needs.It’s all about finding out what works for your body, and listening to what your body is trying to tell you.
And it’s also about getting into a good routine. Being consistent with your sleep pattern will help your body to understand when it needs to relax and go to sleep. Try eating dinner at the same time every night, giving your body enough time to digest it, then getting in bed at the same time and waking up at the same time every morning.
When you stick to a sleeping pattern such as this, your body will notice and your mind will too. Give it a try. Healthline explains a little more about why getting enough sleep is imperative to your health.
How Much Sleep Should Kids Get?
Kids need more sleep than adults, that’s a fact. As mentioned above, babies need the most at 14-17 hours per day. Toddlers need somewhere between 12-14 and teenagers need around 8-10 hours of sleep every night. When we sleep, our body is working really hard without our conscious knowledge.
It is repairing, rejuvenating and refreshing our bodies. Because children and teens are still growing, both physically and mentally, they need more time for their bodies to be rejuvenated. Children’s bodies also tend to work harder than adults because they use up energy to promote healthy growth.
In addition, a lot of kids are extremely active throughout the day. With the likes of school, sporting activities, playtime etc, children use up a lot of energy throughout their day so they need a lot of time to have a break, relax and re-energise throughout the night.
What will happen if your kids don’t get the sleep they need? According to research done by professors at Harvard University and Penn State University, children can suffer from behavioral issues, poor academics, heightened emotions, poor concentration, and of course, obesity, amongst other health issues.
But, a lot of kids aren’t getting the kind of rest they need and it is more often than not because they are going to bed too late in the evenings. Research has proven that children who go to sleep after 9 p.m. are not getting enough sleep because
- It is too late
- They struggle to fall asleep quickly after 9 p.m. and
- They will tend to wake up more often throughout the night.
It is of course easier said than done, getting your kids to go to bed on time. There are a few things that researchers have proven will help your children and teens get the right amount of quality sleep which include, reducing screen time before bed (including phones, tablets, laptops, computers, TVs etc), setting a solid routine which includes a set dinner time and a bedtime routine.
Of course all routines can seem to go out the window on the weekends, and if you have teeangers, you know they can often enjoying going to bed after midnight on a Friday night and not showing their face for breakfast until past noon on Saturday.
Although they may be enjoying their weekend late night/late morning routine, this is not going to help their quality of sleep when it comes to the weekdays. Try making them shift their sleep pattern; even a few hours either side could help significantly.
Male vs Female Sleep
According to many scientific studies, women need around 20 minutes more sleep than men do. Why? Because they tend to burn through more mentally than men each day (think along the lines of multitasking and the amount of brain power used in such a complex task).
The reason women need more sleep is because sleep is the time where our brains relax and are able to regenerate and build up more energy for the next day. So if women are using more mental energy, they need more sleep in order to refresh their brains. So what are the other differences in the way that women and men get their sleep?
- Women tend to go to sleep earlier at night and also wake up earlier in the morning than men
- Women actually tend to have a harder time sleeping than men do, so many women (around 15%) are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis
- Women struggle to sleep due to a variety of factors including monthly periods (which can cause a rise or decrease in hormones, pain or irritation), being pregnant or going through the menopause. Unfortunately women actually tend to struggle more with getting enough sleep after they have gone through menopause
- It has been reported that a whopping 63% of women struggle with insomnia at least once a week
- It has been reported that 58% of women struggle with disturbed or interrupted sleep at least three times per week
- Women tend to experience a lighter sleep than men do
- Men tend to have a better and more quality night’s sleep on a regular basis
- Men have better periods of REM sleep, which also means that they dream a lot more than women do
- It has been reported that 8% of men have trouble sleeping, compared to 15% of women
- It has been reported that 54% of men suffer from insomnia at least once a week (which is 9% less than women)
- It has been reported that 48% of men struggle with disturbed or interrupted sleep at least three times per week (which is 10% less than women)
- It is known that men tend to suffer twice as much from sleep apnoea (difficulty breathing) during the night, which is the only sleep issue men struggle with more than women
How To Get Better Sleep
If you are struggling with getting a good or satisfying night’s sleep on a regular basis and it is starting to affect you mentally or physically, then you need to take the necessary steps to ensure that you get more sleep. Here are a few important things you can do to to improve your sleeping habits:
Both men and women who exercise regularly during the day feel less lethargic during the day, and tend to get a better night’s sleep during the night. Even light exercise can help with your quality of sleep, such as a 15 minute dog walk. More intense exercise can significantly improve your sleep, by making you more tired both mentally and physically.
There are several aspects that come into play from light exposure:
1. Morning Light
When you get up, make sure you expose yourself to nice bright sunlight as soon as possible. This light will help you to wake up naturally and more quickly. Try having your morning coffee or cereal outside or near a window that lets the light in.
2. Daytime Light
During the day, make sure your home is letting light through as much as possible, and make sure your desk or workspace is in a well-lit area. This will help you to stay more alert and focused.
3. Avoid blue light at bed time
Try to put down phones, tablets, laptops, computers, TVs and backlit reading devices at least an hour before it is time to sleep. Why? Because the light from such devices suppresses melatonin levels which helps you to sleep. The light will prohibit you from relaxing or winding down when it is time to do so.
What you eat and drink and when you eat and drink play a major role in your sleeping habits:
1. Avoid Caffeine
Many of us all love a coffee in the morning and a tea in the afternoon, but try to restrict how much caffeine you are drinking throughout the day, because it can actually affect your quality of sleep several hours after you have drunk it.
2. Smoke Less
Similar to above, nicotine in cigarettes is a stimulant and can affect your sleep quality significantly if you consume a lot during the day.
3. Eat and Drink Earlier
Try eating dinner or drinking any liquids at least 2 hours before you go to bed. This is to give your body time to digest the food, and to pass the liquid. There is nothing worse than waking up in the middle of the night because you need to go to the bathroom.
4. Avoid Alcohol
Although a beer or glass of wine to help you unwind before bed is something many of us tend to enjoy, it could actually be affecting your sleep. Try drinking your drink earlier in the evening, because even a small amount of alcohol can interfere with the quality of sleep you are getting.
Getting into a solid routine every night will improve your sleep significantly. Try eating dinner at the same time every evening, showering and getting ready for bed at the same time. Getting into bed at the same time will help your body to get into a regular rhythm.
This means your body will eventually start to wind down automatically when it gets to that time, and you will be able to fall asleep (and into a deeper sleep) faster and more efficiently.
So in conclusion, it is important to get your mind and body into a solid routine so that it simply becomes habit to go to bed at a certain time. This way your body will be ready to unwind and relax, and you will find it much easier to fall asleep on a daily basis.
Eat dinner on time, finish drinking on time, turn off distractions including TVs and phones on time, and allow your body to fall into a night of quality sleep so that you wake up feeling refreshed, rested and raring to go.
Most people are so concerned with the in’s and out’s of their busy lives which consist of work and play, that they consider sleep as merely a choice rather than a necessity. And this will come back to haunt them in the long run.
Avoid the dire pitfalls of sleep deprivation such as obesity, heart disease, poor academic/work performance, depression, irritability, headaches and more by setting and sticking to a routine that you are comfortable with, and getting the quantity and quality of sleep that you and your body deserve.