According to the Harvard Sleep School most adults will need approximately "8 hours of sleep in 24", but there can be substantial variation from individual to individual.
The suggestion seems to be that the ideal sleeping range is around 6 to 9 hours in 24, but it is worth noting that for teenagers it is suggested the amount of sleep ideally be increased to around 10.
Why is Sleep Important?
Sleep is important for many reasons. It allows our body and mind to 'regenerate', it allows us to consolidate memory and it improves our focus and concentration for daily tasks. Numerous studies tell us that poor sleep can affect memory, general functioning and mood. There is now even evidence of a link between poor sleep and poor immune health.
How To Improve Your Sleep
Good sleep starts with establishing a good sleep routine. It is important to try to get to bed at roughly the same time every night - but crucially - getting up at the same time everyday will 'set your internal biological clock'. Even if you're tempted to over-sleep because you had a bad night try to resist; your body will compensate by getting you into bed earlier the following night. As a rough guide aim to get into bed by 11pm and out of bed around 8am. This schedule will of course depend on other obligations like work, early lectures and your own internal rhythm, i.e. are you more a night or morning person? Remember ultimately you are aiming to sleep between 6 and 9 hours.
Find a sleep routine which allows you to wind down preferably a minimum of 30 minutes before bed. The process of allowing your body to wind down may involve:
- Having a warm shower
- Having a light snack or caffeine free drink, for example, warm milk
- Sleep 'promoting' reading (not an exciting book!)
- Dim lights.
It is worth noting that when stressed we produce more cortisol, the hormone associated with stress which makes us more alert, so avoiding activities which may raise stress levels close to bedtime is advisable, (Harvard Sleep School) These may include;
- Excessive exercise
- Eating large amounts
- Stimulating conversations
- Stimulating input from another source - e.g. book, study, TV.
This is a term used to describe the process of establishing a good sleep routine. The keys to good sleep hygiene are:
- Avoid caffeine within about 4 hours of your regular sleep (including food with caffeine in it such as chocolate).
- Do not smoke cigarettes too close to bedtime.
- Do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol (this is a good idea for many reasons, obviously).
- Exercise is good but avoid strenuous exercise after 6pm.
- Do not consume a large meal late in the evening or close to bedtime;a small snack is OK if you need it, but again avoid anything with caffeine and sugar.
- Avoid drinking too much liquid of any kind - but equally don't go to sleep thirsty.
- Do not eat in the middle of the night - or you will find you start waking at this time every night.
- Make your sleep environment comfortable and somewhere you want to be you want it to feel restful, not too hot or too cold, minimal sound, minimal light, and preferably tidy.
- If possible clear your bedroom of all electronic equipment and make sure even your phone is stored in another room. Light sources in any electronic equipment tell your brain to ‘wake up'- not rest. Light is the thing which switches us from night to day and vice versa.
- Do not do anything in bed except sleep, have sex or rest.
- Naps during the day are OK- BUT they must be before 5pm and short (generally it is suggested between 20-40 minutes only)
- Do not go to bed till you're sleepy - and if you still can't get to sleep when you lie down - give yourself 10-15 minutes and then get up and do something soothing which does not involve electronic equipment, it might be reading a boring book, doing a simple yoga stretch, practising a mindfulness exercise, meditating.
- Establish a good wind down routine.
- During the day get as much light into your life as possible. Open the curtains when you get up, go outside and eat your lunch. This helps to set your internal body clock as light tells our brain to wake up!
- Stick at the above, as with anything it takes persistence and practice to see change. If however you find things are not changing, despite consistently trying the above, seek advice from a Doctor or Counsellor.
Awake in the middle of the night? How to get back to sleep...
- Establish a 'worry time', separate from bed time. Often if we wake in the night we will find that we worry. If this is your habit find another time during the day when you can worry. Set aside this time specifically and write down everything you want to think about and work through it - coming up with appropriate solutions and taking action as you need to. If you need help with this speak to someone - a friend, family member or Counsellor. Then if you wake in the night worrying, remind yourself you have the specific time set aside tomorrow, and thinking now is not necessary.
- Try to avoid looking at the clock and try to get straight back to sleep. Practice deep breathing or a relaxation exercise if you find this helps.
- If you can't get back to sleep easily, get up and do a soothing activity, such as short yoga sequence or meditation.
- If you are having trouble sleeping because you are worrying about things, keep a notepad by your bed, and write down whatever you are worried about, so you know you will attend to it in the morning. This has an effect as if your conscious mind is telling your unconscious mind that it is OK to let go (and sleep) because the issue of concern will be dealt with and not forgotten (you don't have to 'hold it in mind' anymore because it is written down).
Take a look at some of our top tips if you're having trouble sleeping.
Resources and References
- The Harvard Sleep School
- Acceptance Commitment Therapy, Home, Russ Harris
- The Australasian Sleep Association