Western society has been increasingly demanding on people as working hours have started to bleed later and later into the day. This in addition to technology like smartphones greatly increases the amount of time spent awake due to the emission of harsh blue light in the late hours of the day. As a result, more people than ever are experiencing sleep-related issues and are reporting poor sleep, increased sleep debt, and reduced sleep time. In fact the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep in America 2020 Poll revealed that Americans feel sleepy 3 days out of the week on average, which is not good for our physical health and wellness, especially in a pandemic. Additionally, it showed that 62% of Americans are likely to just shake off the sleepiness rather than dealing with the root cause of the sleepiness and taking proper care of their sleep health.
This article aims to provide clarity to the subject of sleep as well as ways in which you can facilitate the perfect night's rest. By understanding sleep and taking your sleep quality into your own hands, you can facilitate changes that can allow you to rest easy, feel more refreshed each day, and maintain good health.
How many hours of sleep do you need?
Since you have been on this planet you have spent countless hours sleeping and staring at the back of your eye lids. Sleep is a natural process that really doesn’t require us to consciously decide when we sleep as our body will naturally fall asleep. Early within the history of humans, sleep was mainly dictated by the rise and fall of the sun. When the sun set there was little one could do to pass the time and the body would naturally relax and get prepared for sleep until the next bright lights awoke them. Since the invention of the light bulb, our waking hours have grown to include the night. While this is great since we can get more done within a single day, there is now the need to consciously ensure you are getting enough sleep in the night.
The amount of sleep you need depends on a variety of factors, the major factors to consider for how much sleep you need is your age, sensation of sleepiness, pregnancy status and more. Below is a breakdown of the different factors to consider when trying to determine how many hours of sleep you need.
A factor that impacts the amount of time you need to sleep the most is your age. When you are born you require an immense amount of sleep, ranging anywhere from 14 to 17 hours a day. As you age this number begins to decrease and is a part of growing up. Below is a breakdown by age to how much sleep you need by age based on CDC Guidelines.
As a newborn up until 3 months of age, you will typically require 14-17 hours of sleep throughout the day. During this critical time, your body is undergoing rapid growth and development and requires sleep. While as a parent you may get less than your required share of sleep, newborns are still figuring out a circadian rhythm and is why infants seem to nap all the time.
From 4 months to a year old, you will require anywhere from 12-16 hours of sleep a day. Immense growth also occurs during this time both mentally and physically. Infants begin to develop more control over their body and become more aware of the world around them. All of these milestones are accompanied by many naps and hours of sleeping.
As a toddler from 1 to 2 years of age, you will require 11-14 hours of sleep a day. During this stage toddlers gain more coordination and independence as they learn how to interact with people and objects in the world around them. In fact, the term “terrible twos” comes from toddlers exhibiting more defiant behaviors as they learn to become more independent. At this stage toddlers are more likely to sleep for extended periods of time at night and require some naps throughout the day.
Preschoolers require a similar amount of sleep to toddlers as they can typically sleep through the night but may require a naptime or two. During this stage of life between the ages of 3 and 5, preschoolers begin to learn more about society, rules, and basic counting skills.
As you progress into the school age period of 6 to 12 years of age, you will begin to transition away from the need for naps. 9-12 hours of sleep is recommended for this time period and is fundamental in the ability for young students to acquire new information, encode it, and utilize it.
Between the ages of 13 and 18 sleep patterns begin to resemble that of an adult with the recommended hours of sleep ranging from 8-10 hours a night. During this stage it is important to begin creating healthy sleep habits. Establishing good sleeping habits early on can help you get better sleep as you transition into adulthood.
As an adult the current recommendation is to average 7 hours of sleep a night. Like all of the recommendations above, they signify an average. This means that while some people can be good with 7 hours, others may need more or less sleep a day.
Another factor that can impact your need for sleep is pregnancy. During pregnancy, hormones levels fluctuate and cause physiological changes within the body. Growing a human body within yourself is not an easy task and during your pregnancy, you may notice you need more sleep than you did before. This is normal and is a factor you should consider when determining how much sleep you need.
Your activity level can also greatly impact your need for sleep. In fact, one study found that 72% of college athletes took naps in the day. This finding illustrates that increased activity can have an impact on the amount of sleep we need in a day. If you believe you live an active lifestyle, you may need to consider adding more time to your sleep to ensure you feel well rested and energized for days to come.
When you are sick you will typically not feel well in addition to being more lethargic and tired. When you get sick, the body's immune system goes to work to fight off the foreign body. One of the ways in which your body wards off infection is to raise its body temperature. The act of raising the body temperature requires a lot of energy and it is thought that sleep is a way in which your body tries to reduce energy expenditure.
Getting rest and sleep is a well known part of getting better and if you are sick you may require more than your average amount of sleep.
Lack of sleep
Another factor that can have an effect on the amount of sleep you need is a lack of sleep. When you go without good quality sleep, your body does not enter the deeper stages of sleep. As a result your body experiences what is known as REM rebound where your body will require more deep sleep to play catchup with the lack of sleep.
If you had a long night and only slept for a few hours, you should expect that the following night you will require more sleep. After your body is able to catch up on sleep, the need for extra sleep goes away.
How to improve your sleep
Humans are creatures of comfort and the same concept applies to our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is the biological clock within our bodies that correlates with wakeful and sleeping hours of our day. Our circadian rhythm has adapted throughout evolutionary history to take cues from the environment like sunlight and darkness to signify when it is time to wake up or sleep. In the modern age of artificial light, televisions, and smartphones these cues become more difficult for your body to decipher. As a result you need to make a more conscious effort to ensure that you get enough sleep in the day.
Whether you feel constantly tired, or are simply not getting enough sleep in the night, you may be wondering ways that you can improve your sleep duration and quality. There are many different methods you can utilize and below are some of the best ways to accomplish a better night's sleep.
Consistent sleep schedule
One of the best ways to get a better night's sleep is to establish a strict sleeping schedule that involves a consistent bedtime and time to wake up. By establishing a defined sleeping you are more likely to get the sleep you need in addition to getting better quality sleep. Infact, one study conducted in Taiwan found that irregular bedtimes were linked to getting less sleep in addition to most likely experiencing poorer quality of sleep. By staying consistent with your sleep schedule, even throughout the weekend, you can slowly train your body to get a better night's rest and achieve the perfect night's sleep.
While a consistent sleep schedule can train your body into a better sleep, creating a relaxing bedtime routine is a great way to help you fall asleep. If you take a look in the past, our ancestors would begin to wind down their activities as daylight began to run out. Having dinner, reading, and settling in for the night was typically what consisted of their evening. Today we have artificial light at our fingertips and screens to binge out favorite shows. While this may feel like a good way to wind down, it isn’t the best way to wind down for sleep.
For the optimal bedtime routine you should aim to set aside the 30 minutes before you plan to go to bed. In this time you should utilize dim lights, avoid screen time, and choose an activity that is calming like straightening up, journaling, reading, or creating a todo list for the next day. By limiting your exposure to light you are effectively preparing your body for sleep by playing off of the natural cues of light which signal time to sleep.
Just as important as your bedtime routine, your wakeup routine can help you to wake up and feel energized. Sunlight is nature's best alarm clock but oftentimes bedrooms have curtains, or blinds that shield the room from light which is great at night but not so good for waking up.
The first step to creating a good wakeup routine is to ensure you have an alarm that actually makes you get out of bed to turn off. This small tip makes a large difference as it greatly reduces the chance you will hit snooze and try to go back to sleep as it requires you to physically get up out of bed. Once you are out of bed you should try to get exposure to natural sunlight by opening the blinds or making your way outside for some fresh air. If you wake up when it is dark outside, you should turn on the lights in the room to help your body wake up with some light.
Another great tip for helping you wake up is to place your phone in a different room instead of utilizing it as your nightstand alarm clock. Our phones are very capable, but they can really hinder our day if utilized in the wrong manner. When you utilize your phone as an alarm clock you are effectively training your body to look at your phone the second you wake up. This can lead to scrolling aimlessly laying in bed which is not conducive to effectively waking up. Getting a designated alarm clock is a great tool for helping you perfect your wakeup routine.
Why is sleep important?
By this point you most likely understand how much sleep you need as well as the ways in which you can achieve that amount of sleep. A lingering question remains and that is “why do we even need sleep in the first place?”. This is a question that is debated in the scientific community and it is still being researched to this day.
Below is a dive into the theories behind sleep, why sleep is important, and the different stages of sleep. While this information will not make you a sleep scientist, it will give you some insight into something that you do on a daily basis and for a large chunk of your life.
Theories of sleep
Sleep is a universal property that many animals share. For centuries, the reason behind why we sleep has perplexed the greatest minds. Laying inactive and vulnerable to predation simply seems like an inherently bad attribute to have, yet nearly all animals sleep in some capacity. These factors all contribute to researchers searching for the underlying reasons as to why we sleep. Below are three of the most compelling theories for the reason we sleep.
The first theory is called the energy conservation theory. This theory attempts to justify sleep as a means of conserving energy. When looking at the animal kingdom, resources and food are scarce. Based on the theory, because of the advantage to conserve energy sleep became an advantageous trait as you can utilize the energy you do get for a longer period of time if you spend hours inactive.
The second theory called the restorative theory proposes that sleep is a necessary function that allows the body to undergo restorative processes that counteract what was lost during the wakeful hours. This theory has recently been backed by a 2020 study that found a buildup of reactive oxygen species in the digestive tract of sleep deprived rats caused their death. When treated with antioxidants, the rats kept awake would go on and live healthy lives free of oxidative stress.
The third theory is called the brain plasticity theory and it believes that sleep plays an integral part in how our brain organizes information. This theory is supported by the fact that the high cognitive load of new experiences and learning in children is consistent with the fact that they require more sleep.
Each theory offers a different take on sleep and we are still a long ways away from finding the reasoning behind sleep. For all we know, sleep is needed for all of the above reasons. Sleep research is ever expanding and is an exciting field full of new discoveries.
Effects of not getting enough sleep
One of the best ways you can learn about the benefits of sleep is to look at how you feel when you are lacking sleep. The most common symptoms of sleep deprivation are difficulty with focus and mental clarity, brain fog, decreased cognitive ability, lack of energy, and changes in mood. These are the short term effects of not getting enough sleep, but there are larger impacts that not getting enough sleep can have.
Those that suffer from chronic sleeplessness increases the risk of chronic conditions and mental health disorders. Lack of sleep can increase your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, compromised immune system, as well as mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
These negative impacts of sleep deprivation show that sleep is an essential process that needs to be met. While the underlying mechanism as to how a lack of sleep causes these symptoms and increased risks is unknown, it is known that the two are strongly correlated. Getting enough sleep is an important component of your health and should be taken just as seriously as any other component of your health.
What are the stages of sleep
Many people are familiar with the term deep sleep, but are unfamiliar with what constitutes deep sleep. In reality there are more stages than light and deep sleep. There are actually 4 stages of sleep and each signifies a specific observable change in brain activity that can be seen with an electroencephalogram (EEG).
Stage 1 sleep is the lightest sleep stage and is the stage most consistent with dozing off. You are still semi conscious during stage 1. The difference between stage 1 brain waves and wakefull brain waves are small.
Stage 2 sleep is a deeper sleep that consists of slowed brain waves with small bursts of activity. During this stage respiration rate, heart rate, and temperature begin to decrease.
Stage 3 sleep is what is commonly known as deep sleep. Within this stage of sleep the body becomes incredibly relaxed, bodily functions slow, and brain waves begin to show a short wavelike pattern. During this stage it becomes harder to wake someone up.
Stage 4 sleep is more commonly known as REM sleep and is characterized by rapid eye movement and dreaming. Brainwaves almost resemble those of an individual that is awake and is one of the reasons that it is proposed that this stage is responsible for vivid dreams. During REM, the body enters a state of paralysis where skeletal muscles become paralyzed. This stage is incredibly important as without REM you can experience REM rebound as discussed previously.
In closing, the amount of sleep you need depends on a number of factors including your age, whether you are pregnant or sick, as well as your activity level. Knowing how much sleep you need and the underlying reasons as to why you need that amount of sleep can allow you to better understand sleep and why it is important. Getting a good night's sleep is as important as any other method of improving your health. Just like how you take a MitoQ supplement to support your mitochondria, ensuring you get a good night's sleep supports your immunity and overall well being.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.