WE’RE often told eight hours is the perfect healthy amount of sleep. But according to new research, that’s wrong.
YOU’D be hard-pressed to find anyone who says they get enough sleep.
But what is “enough”? Is it eight hours? Seven hours? Enough that you don’t need a straight IV of espresso just to get out of bed in the morning?
We’re often told that eight hours is the optimum healthy amount of sleep. But new research suggests this is a misconception.
Penn State researchers have suggested that 8.5 hours of sleep is the new eight hours, Quartz reports.
Why the extra 30 minutes? Because healthy sleepers spend about 90 per cent of their time in bed actually sleeping.
This means even if you’re in bed eight hours before your alarm is scheduled to go off, you’ll probably get closer to seven hours of actual sleep.
Many of us tend to “catch up” on our sleep during the weekend — cringing our way out of bed for work in the morning, and then sleeping in to make up for it on Saturday and Sunday.
According to the researchers, this isn’t ideal — and you may not even realise what you’re truly capable of.
“That’s like the fish and the fish bowl phenomenon: The fish doesn’t know that he’s in the fishbowl, nonetheless that he’s in water,” Penn State researcher Daniel Gartenberg told Quartz. “Also, when you’re sleep-deprived, research has shown that you’re really bad at being able to tell that you’re sleep-deprived.
“A lot of this has to do with stress in our environment and our external need to work all the time. This is what’s driving the fact that we’re sleeping so poorly nowadays.”
He said a good way to see how much sleep you really need is to try to stick to your normal bedtime while on holidays, and see what time you wake up.
“With no stressors or time to get up, you’ll just fall into a natural pattern, and that’s probably how much sleep you actually need,” Dr Gartenberg said.
If you need eight hours to feel “normal” then sticking to a regular bedtime and getting up time is a must. A couple of late nights can quickly add to your sleep debt, which is best paid off by going to bed 20 minutes earlier, rather than sleeping in.
2. Prepare your brain for sleep.
Allow about 90 minutes to wind down with a hot bath, a relaxation routine and unplug from your technology. The blue light emitted by our screens fools the brain into thinking it’s still daytime.
While it’s possible to change to a yellow backlight, continuing to engage with our laptops and phones means we are not allowing our brain time to quieten down to be ready for sleep.
3. Learn to meditate.
When practised regularly, meditation has been shown to improve sleep.
4. Keep the bedroom for sleep and sex only.
That means no TV or Netflix binges in bed, though reading using a warm light is OK. Having sex helps — it makes us feel more relaxed and sleepy through the extra prolactin released after orgasm.
5. Cut the nightcap.
While alcohol helps us relax and drop off to sleep, it’s been shown to disturb our sleep pattern causing us to wake more often during the night.
6. Avoid other stimulants such as caffeine or smoking.
Caffeine has a half-life of six hours, so that cup of coffee drunk at 4pm in the afternoon means 50 per cent of the caffeine is still in your system at 10pm. Caffeine competes with adenosine, a naturally occurring brain chemical that drives sleep.
7. Be active enough during the day.
People who exercise regularly find their sleep quality improves.
8. Create the perfect sleep environment.
Keep your bedroom cool between 19-21 degrees, dark and quiet. Avoid putting a sheet between you and the doona as it reduces the breathability of the quilt and can make you feel too hot.
9. Choose your sleeping partner carefully.
You may love your pet, but sleeping with them is not recommended. As for your other partner, if they snore, have restless legs or sleep apnoea, a gentle prod to encourage them to get their sleep challenges fixed will help you get a better night’s sleep too.
10. Still can’t sleep?
Rather than fretting, it’s better to get up, make yourself a warm milky drink — the tryptophan helps induce sleep, or camomile tea, and undertake an activity that will keep you occupied but not over stimulated, until that next surge of sleepiness revisits and you can go back to bed.