How much sleep do you really need?

How much sleep do you really need?

With a new year, many people will be resolve to pay off credit cards, cars and other debt. May we suggest that at the same time, you resolve to eliminate sleep debt?

Most of us would think twice before getting behind the wheel after we’ve been drinking, but we don’t give it a thought when driving after a poor night’s sleep. Yet the outcomes have a lot in common. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 100,000 auto crashes and 1,550 related deaths annually in the U.S. are due to fatigue.

But that’s not all. The consequences of sleep deprivation include mood swings and depression, weight gain (which may affect another New Year resolution), health problems like diabetes and heart disease, memory problems, impaired judgment (potentially making you think you are getting enough sleep), even an increased risk of death. There’s a reason sleep deprivation has been used as a form of torture.

So how much sleep do you need? The National Sleep Foundation ran a study published in Sleep Health updating the guidelines. For adults ages 26-64, it recommends 7-9 hours. For adults 65-plus, the range is 7 to 8 hours. Yet a third of all adults get six hours or fewer per night.

To determine whether you’re in the right range for you, ask yourself these questions from the Sleep Foundation:

  • Do you feel you’re getting enough sleep?
  • How many hours of sleep does it take for you to feel energized in the morning?
  • Are you overweight?
  • Is caffeine your best friend during the day?
  • Do you ever feel sleepy when driving?


If you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, these tips can help.

Watch your consumption. Lay off the caffeine, especially after noon each day. And cut your alcohol intake. People often think that a drink before bed will help them sleep better, but really it only helps them fall asleep better. The quality of the sleep is diminished, leading to daytime drowsiness, headaches and irritability. It may be OK to have an occasional drink before bed – (double check with your doctor); just don’t do it every night. Also avoid large meals before bedtime.


Assess your environment. Is it conducive to a good night’s rest? Consider the comfort of your bed and pillow, light, noise, temperature; and if you need to, get room darkening shades, a fan or a new mattress.


Turn off the electronics at least one hour before it’s time to sleep. Smart phones, tablets and computers emit blue light which suppresses melatonin production. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep. Messing with melatonin production also messes with your body’s circadian rhythm, or internal clock, that controls everything from sleepiness (or lack thereof) at night time, to digestion, body temperature and many other systems. Blue light can create a vicious cycle of sleep problems.


Stick to a schedule. Speaking of those circadian systems, keeping the same bedtime and waking up at the same time each day will not only help you fall (and stay) asleep more easily in general, but it will also ensure high quality of sleep. Create a ritual for bedtime to help your body and mind wind down. Then stick to the schedule as much as possible, even on weekends.


Exercise daily. You knew it was coming: exercise. Among the numerous benefits of daily exercise is better sleep. Daily, moderately intense exercise reduces restless leg syndrome and other sleep disorders and it increases duration. At least one study has shown that working out particularly in the morning leads to fewer wake-ups at night.  Again, always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.