It’s easy to say that sleep deprivation is an epidemic, but much harder to figure out how much more we actually need to sleep every night. While average numbers are nice, we are all individuals. Some people legitimately need more sleep than others, and most of us need different amounts of sleep at different times. So how much sleep do you really need, and how can you figure it out?
Standard Recommendations for Sleep
Most experts will tell you that healthy adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. That’s what numerous studies have shown. These results have been replicated, repeated, and confirmed over and over again.
Some people feel like they need more sleep than that because they’ve built up a sleep debt that they haven’t paid off. Over time, if you’re not getting enough sleep, your body craves more than this average amount of sleep in an effort to get back the sleep that it has lost.
Even if you look at the standard recommendation without factoring in sleep debt, that’s still a two-hour gap! If someone who needs 9 hours of sleep every night only gets 7, that person will be building up sleep debt rapidly. They won’t feel rested, and they’ll struggle through their days. So how can you determine how much sleep you need?
Determining Your Ideal Sleep Amount
The amount of sleep you need is actually determined by many factors, including your age, your body’s innate need for sleep, your sleep quality, any medical conditions you’re fighting, how much you exercise, and whether or not you’re pregnant. Thus, the amount of sleep you need is likely to vary throughout your lifetime.
If you want to determine how much sleep you need right now, there are a few things to think about.
How Do You Wake Up?
When you wake up in the morning, how do you feel? Are you up slightly before your alarm, ready to get dressed and take on the day? Or do you have to drag yourself out of bed every morning, wishing there was some way you could shut your eyes again for just a few more minutes?
The way you wake up says a lot about whether you’re getting enough sleep. If you wake up happy and ready to get up, you’re probably getting enough sleep. If you struggle to wake up, require an alarm clock to even have a chance of getting out of bed, and sometimes miss your wake up completely, you likely aren’t getting enough sleep.
How Do You Fall Asleep?
How long does it take you to fall asleep at night? If you lie down, think for 20-30 minutes, then rest, you’re probably just the right amount of tired. On the other hand, if you crash the minute your head hits the pillow, then it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.
If it takes you longer than 30 minutes to fall asleep every single night, you may be getting enough sleep but this may also have other causes. Are you feeling anxious? Are you overtired, or did you drink caffeine too late in the day? Before you decide you’re getting plenty of sleep, rule out these other options.
How Tired Are You During the Day?
If you bounce out of bed ready to take on the world but you want to nap by 10 AM, you’re probably not getting enough sleep. Take some time to focus on how you feel during the day, every day. It helps to write down how much you slept, how you felt when you woke up, and how you feel throughout the day. It may sound silly, but writing it all down can help you determine whether you’re really getting enough rest.
Look, too, at how well your body functions. Are you hungry all the time but gaining weight, too? Your body may be struggling with metabolic issues due to sleep deprivation. Do you get sluggish at a certain time of day? Your body may be trying to tell you that you need more sleep.
Determine Your Ideal Bedtime
Another way to determine how much sleep you need is to take a couple of weeks and figure out your ideal bedtime. Decide when you need to get up, then count backward 7 hours from there. That’s the time you need to be asleep. Do your best to fall asleep at that time for a few days.
If you’re tired, and you probably are, push your bedtime back by 15 minutes. Keep doing this every few nights until you’re waking up ready to go, falling asleep in 20-30 minutes, and feeling good during the day.
When you reach that point, congratulations! You know exactly how much sleep you need at this point in your life. Remember that you can always do this exercise again if you feel like your sleep needs change.