Has it ever occurred to you that we spend more time sleeping than any other single activity throughout our lives? Up to 1/3 of our lifespan is spent asleep. Wow. To some of you sleep is heavenly and you can't get enough of it. To others of you, sleep seems like a huge waste of time. Which camp do you fall in?
Have you ever pondered about sleep, and why all species do it? Sleep is when our body can really take time to relax major muscles and repair itself: our brain, our organs, our immune system, our muscles and tissues. But there's more to it than that, isn't there?
If you had your choice to sleep or else stay up day and night throughout your entire life, what would you choose? I, myself, happen to quite enjoy sleeping. I like going to sleep and waking up with a fresh, clean slate for my mind. I like forgetting the problems, the stresses, and the events of the previous day and putting them in the past. I just like how good sleep feels.
How much sleep do you get per night? You might be surprised. I always assumed that I got 8 hours of sleep until I actually started tracking it. I downloaded a free app called Sleep Time, which allows you to not only track what time you go to bed and get up each morning, but also analyzes your movement throughout the night and graphs your sleep cycles. You can even set it to wake you up during one of your moments of lightest sleep. Once you start looking at your bed times, rise times, and total sleep, its a wake up call to what your habits really are.
How much sleep does your body really need? Your need for sleep actually changes over the course of your life. The following recommendations and chart are from the National Sleep Foundation. 18 leading scientists and researchers came together to form an expert panel tasked with updating the official recommendations. They reviewed over 300 current scientific publications and slightly adjusted how much sleep is appropriate throughout the human lifespan. A link to the 5-page research paper is here.
Babies need a LOT of sleep (14-17 hours), which then gradually declines until it reaches 7-9 hours as an adult. It stays there for 50 years, and then after you retire, you can make it by on an hour less of sleep. Personally, that's when I really plan on ramping up my sleep!
I frequently hear people say, "My body only needs 5 or 6 hours of sleep." What that might really mean is that they've conditioned or restricted their bodies to that amount of sleep. It doesn't mean that their bodies wouldn't thrive with a few more hours of rest each night.
So with a recommended range of 7-9 hours for adults, how do you know where your personal need falls on the spectrum? If you are honest with yourself, I think you know if you need to get more sleep, or if you are sleeping too much. Exceeding that range on either extreme is most often our attempt to deal with the strains, stresses, and pressures of life. Either we are trying to avoid them by crawling into bed or refusing to get up in the morning. Or else we are staying up way too late watching TV, surfing the internet, or working too many hours at work to try to avoid responsibilities, unwind, or make things better. But they are often having the opposite effect and winding you up and making things worse.
Here are some questions to ask, and then answer yourself honestly:
- Are you productive, healthy and happy on the amount of sleep you are receiving?
- Do you feel sleepy when driving?
- Do you fall asleep anytime and anywhere that you get a spare second?
- Do you get exhausted after dinner, but then push through it and find a second wind which keeps you awake until late in the night?
- Are you struggling with health issues such as being overweight? Or are you at risk for any disease?
- Are you experiencing sleep problems?
- Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Do you have huge bags under your eyes and do people frequently ask you if you are tired or feeling well?
- Do your eyes hurt and are they red, itchy, or bloodshot?
- Do your children, spouse, or bladder wake you up multiple times per night?
Tips to Improve Your Night-time Sleep Routine:
- Set a sleep schedule and stick to it, even on weekends.
- This also means setting a sleep schedule for your kids. Set an alarm that goes off every night at a certain time and alerts everyone that it is time for bed. If you find yourself blowing by the time, then set an alarm or alert for yourself as well.
- When the bedtime hour arrives, dim all the lights in the house to just a few lamps.
- Practice a relaxing bedtime ritual: journaling, relaxed reading that puts your to sleep, prayer, etc.
- When you climb into bed or just beforehand do some simple stretching (head, shoulders, knees, and toes) and/or deep breathing. This will help you to clear you mind as you focus on your body.
- Exercise daily. As little as 10 minutes of aerobic cardio per day will help you fall asleep faster and sleep deeper.
- Ensure the ideal temperature, sound and light. You can use a noise/nature sound app, air purifier, or humidifier to cover up unwanted noises. Put a towel at the bottom of the doors or windows to block or extra light and sound.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress, with soft sheets, soft blankets, and plenty of pillows. Make it your version of heaven.
- If you struggle with waking up and falling back to sleep in the middle of the night, then try avoiding the following for several hours before bed-time: alcohol, caffeine, eating, stressful thoughts, and electronics.
- Try taking a warm bath, sitting in a hot tub, or taking a hot shower before bed. Follow this up with a brief foot, shoulder, hand, or head massage from your spouse, using lotion or essential oils. Take turns every other night. It's amazing how relaxing this can be.
"Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
We invite you to really consider making sleep a priority in your life. Schedule it, commit to it, and give yourself the gift of rest. Your body, mind, and family will thank you.