A good night’s sleep is not only essential for our cognitive, emotional and physical health – it also leaves us feeling refreshed and ready for the day. Most of us know the amount of sleep that individuals need varies from person to person, and that, as a general rule, most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep each night. There are many factors – age, health, sleep debt, sleep quality – that impact the amount of sleep we need. Our sleep needs change as we grow older, and older adults may need less sleep than younger individuals.
In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) updated its sleep duration recommendations. The new guidelines include small changes to the recommended sleep ranges for children and teens and new recommended sleep ranges for young and older adults.
The new recommendations are:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours; the previous recommendation was 12-18 hours
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours; previously it was 14-15 hours
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours; previously it was 12-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours; previously it was 11-13 hours
- School-aged children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours; previously it was 10-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours; previously it was 8.5-9.5 hours
- Young adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
- Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65 years and older): 7-8 hours
“The National Sleep Foundation Sleep Duration Recommendations will help individuals make sleep schedules that are within a healthy range,” said David Cloud, CEO of the National Sleep Foundation. “They also serve as a useful starting point for individuals to discuss their sleep with their health care providers.”
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO I NEED?
To figure out how much sleep you need, ask yourself:
How long does it take you to fall asleep? You should fall asleep 15 to 20 minutes after hitting the sheets.
Do you need an alarm to wake up? If you’re awake before your alarm goes off, or wake up multiple times throughout the night, your body might be trying to tell you that you’ve had enough sleep; alternatively, if you drag yourself out of bed every morning when your alarm goes off, you probably need more sleep.
How do you feel? Keep a daily sleep journal and note what time you go to bed and what time you wake up and how you feel during the day. This will help you track your sleep patterns and assess if you’re getting enough sleep.
WHAT IS SLEEP HYGIENE?
The NSF defines sleep hygiene as “a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness.” It’s important to establish and maintain a regular sleep schedule and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. To establish a good sleep routine, follow these simple tips:
- Associate your bed with sleeping. Don’t listen to music, read or watch TV in bed.
- Avoid napping during the day because it can disturb your normal sleep/wake patterns.
- Avoid stimulants – alcohol, caffeine and nicotine – before bedtime.
- Don’t eat large meals before bedtime.
- Establish a relaxing bedtime routine to prepare your body for sleep.
- Exercise every day. Avoid vigorous exercise right before bedtime – however, relaxing exercise, like yoga, helps initiate sleep.
- Make sure your bedroom is cozy and inviting. The bed should be comfortable and the room shouldn’t be too hot or too cold.
- Remove all electronics from the bedroom.
If you’re still having problems sleeping, you may need to evaluate and change up your sleep routine. For example, if you’re having problems with daytime sleepiness, try spending a minimum of eight hours in bed. If you’re having problems sleeping at night, try limiting yourself to seven hours in bed. Just remember that it takes time for the changes to have a positive effect.
Conversely, if you get too much sleep, push your bedtime later in 15-minute increments; if you get too little sleep, push your bedtime earlier in 15-minute increments. If this doesn’t work after several weeks, you may want to consult a sleep specialist.
HAVE PROBLEMS WITH SLEEPINESS DURING THE WINTER?
Do you find yourself feeling sleepier during the winter? According to Dr. Michael Decker, an associate professor at Georgia State University and spokesperson for the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, we need bright sunshine to help us be alert and vigilant and a lack of light in the wintertime can become a problem. The shorter days impact our circadian rhythm, our internal body clock in charge of sleepiness and wakefulness.
When we don’t get enough brightness, we tend to feel sleepy all day – and that means there’s no darkness signaling to the body at the end of the day that it’s time to sleep. “The body doesn’t feel like it’s time to go to bed because you’ve been half asleep during the day,” said Decker. You may find that you need an hour or two more sleep.
What can you do to improve your sleep quality in the wintertime?
- Don’t eat three to four hours before bedtime.
- Establish good sleep patterns. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to help regulate your body’s internal clock.
- Get a humidifier. The NSF recommends keeping your bedroom humidity level right around 50 percent year round.
- Get some exercise. Physical activity increases alertness and improves your mood and sleep quality.
- Get some light exposure every day.
- Keep your bedroom between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Practice relaxation exercises before going to bed.
- Turn off all electronic equipment one to two hours before bedtime.