How much sleep do you need?
Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Some people need a little less and others a little more to feel rested.
About one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep, and up to 30 percent have some symptoms of insomnia, such as trouble falling or staying asleep. The reasons can vary, but common ones include hectic work or home schedules, a baby in the house, night-shift work, constant travel and jet lag, or sleep disorders like sleep apnea.
Why sleep is so important
Our 24/7 lifestyles may have us thinking that sleep is a luxury, but sleep deprivation can have serious effects on our brains and health. Being drowsy can cause car accidents or workplace injuries.
When you’re passed out in your bed, your body is busy repairing wear and tear on your tissues. Hormones that affect hunger and blood sugar rebalance overnight, and your immune system gets ready for another day’s work fighting off infections. Plus, your brain is wiring new and stronger pathways so you can better solve problems, make decisions, and stay on an even emotional keel the next day.
A chronic lack of sleep interferes with all this housekeeping, and over time may lead to weight gain, stress, moodiness, and depression. It can also increase your risk of hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
How can you tell if you need more sleep?
Signs can range from the subtle to the obvious: forgetfulness, lack of focus or energy, restlessness, slower reaction times, irritability, or mood swings. If you nod off during the day while watching TV or during a meeting, for example, that’s a pretty sure sign you need more sleep.
If you get more than 8 hours every night but still don’t feel rested, a sleep disorder or another health problem may be causing your symptoms. You might want to ask your doctor about it. A sleep specialist can also help you with strategies and treatments to get more rest.
Ways to get more rest
- Go to bed at the same time every night, early enough to get at least 7 hours of sleep.
- Wake up at the same time every morning – even on weekends.
- Keep your bedroom dark and quiet. Use eye shades and ear plugs, if needed.
- Make sure the temperature is cool and comfortable. About 60 to 67 F is ideal for most.
- Have a relaxing wind-down routine, such as reading a book or listening to music. If you watch TV, choose a more relaxing program and avoid anything stressful, like the news.
- Avoid your smartphone, tablet, and laptop at bedtime. Blue light from these screens stimulates your brain and can keep you awake.
- If you have trouble falling asleep at night, avoid naps during the day. (However, if you’re already sleep-deprived, a nap can help you catch up feel more alert).
- Exercise in the mornings or late afternoons. If you exercise at night, do something less intense, like yoga.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine, smoking, and big meals a few hours before bedtime.
Harvard Medical School Division of Sleep Medicine. The Characteristics of Sleep. Healthy Sleep website.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Epidemic. CDC website.
Healthy Sleep Tips. National Sleep Foundation.