How much sleep do I need?

A dodgy sleep cycle can seriously affect the way you live your life, but how much sleep do you need and how can you get better sleep? Let The Mix show you how to shape up your shut-eye.

A young person is standing outside wearing an ornage coat. They are wondering, 'how much sleep do I need?'

Why do we sleep?

To make sure our bodies don’t burn out through constant wear and tear, it’s important we rest on a regular basis. As a result, our bodies are fitted with biological clocks that work best when you stick to a regular sleep pattern:

  • The biological clock runs in sleep/wake cycles and works by tweaking certain hormone levels in our bodies.
  • During a decent night’s rest, our bodies go through five stages of sleep. The first two stages are normally referred to as light sleep, then the next two are slow wave or deep sleep, during which time we become much harder to wake up. The last stage is REM sleep, and this is where we do most of our dreaming. 
  • When our mental and physical function start to slip each day, the biological clock starts to wind down adrenaline levels, a naturally occurring stimulant. Ultimately, this persuades us that it’s time to head for bed. One cause of sleep problems is when this process is interrupted by drugs such as caffeine. Sleep disorders can also interfere with this process.
  • Once we’re asleep, the body can then carry out essential repair work. If you have a chronic lack of sleep it can have knock-on effects for all kinds of things such as memory, hormone production and reaction time. 
  • Growth hormones become more active during our horizontal hours, while the brain and eyes get the protein they need to function properly.
  • As we come out of the sleep cycle, adrenaline kicks in again, speeding up body function and ultimately waking us.

To learn more about what happens while we’re asleep, see our article on dreams and nightmares.

How much sleep should I get?

The amount of sleep you need mainly depends on how old you are. Teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep a night, and adults are recommended to get between 7 to 9 hours in most cases, but some people might be able to get by with as little as 6 or as much as 10. It’s different for everyone, but sleeping in too long can make you feel drowsy as well, so bear that in mind.

How to get better sleep

Check out the following steps to get yourself the sleep you need:

  • Go to bed at the same time: Establish a sleep schedule. Hit the sack when you feel tired at the end of each day, so your body clock doesn’t have to work hard at getting you to stop.
  • Get up when you wake up: If you stir before your alarm then get out of bed. Obeying your body clock might be a chore but you’ll feel more alert through the day.
  • Get into shape: Regular work-outs reduce sleep-stopping adrenaline. It also drinks up excess energy that could leave you with your sheets in a tangle. Check out our article on how to get fit here.
  • Eat sensibly: Avoid eating last thing at night or going to bed hungry. If you’re stuffed or starving, your stomach won’t let you rest.
  • Check out your bedding: For a good night’s sleep, osteopaths recommend a firm, level and supported mattress. Otherwise, a sheet of plywood underneath should provide the support you need. As sleep is best with room temperature between 15-21 degrees celsius, make sure your duvet isn’t too heavy. Also wear loose-fitting cotton night garments to allow your skin to breathe.
  • Relax before bedtime: Herbal remedies can help reduce stress and get you into the right mind frame: basil, camomile, lettuce and marjoram all have a calming effect.

Signs you’re not getting enough sleep

Here are the signs that you’re not getting enough sleep:

  • Fatigue: If you’re out of rhythm with your sleep cycle, or suffering from sleep deprivation, then at some point in your waking hours your body will start begging you to lie down.
  • You forget things, and make bad decisions: Fatigue affects your mental capacity. If you’re up and about during a sleep cycle then your ability to remember things starts to slip, and patience can wear thin.
  • Your physical reactions slow down: When you’re tired, your body slows down in order to conserve energy. As a result, mundane tasks can become harder to carry out, while your reaction times take a nosedive.
  • Your appearance starts to suffer: Your skin won’t get revitalised, your eyes lose their sparkle and your immune system weakens.

Check out the rest of our articles on sleeping here. If you’re finding it difficult to fall asleep or you’re waking up too early and not being able to switch off again, Sleepstation is a great resource for improving sleep quality, and you might even be able to get it free on the NHS depending on where you live.

Next Steps

Tags:

sleep

By Holly Turner

Updated on 11-Oct-2022