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Editorial
How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Really Need Before the Workday?
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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

You’re lying in bed before the workday. Maybe you have an important presentation. Maybe you want a good night’s sleep just to get through the day. But no matter what you do, you just can’t fall asleep.

We’ve all been there. While the occasional restless night is normal, even though your body may feel a little off the next day and you may suffer from daytime sleepiness, long-term sleep deprivation can lead to sleep debt (or deficit in sleep over a long period of time) and have serious consequences on your mental and physical health and well-being.

Why is your sleep cycle so important?

Sleep has an effect on nearly every facet of your waking life, including productivity, energy, and psychological well-being. If you’re routinely sleeping poorly, your psychological well-being, interactions with family and friends, and even physical health could suffer.

Simply put, your body needs sleep. If you’re not sleeping well, it won’t function correctly.

Not only will your body feel worse, but sleep problems can also impact your work performance. Sleeping is linked to memory, so you may be less able to complete certain tasks or do them as quickly or as well if you’re sleep-deprived. It also concerns productivity, so you may not work as efficiently when you haven’t had a good night’s sleep. Lack of sleep over the long term can have more severe consequences on your job performance and lead to burnout.

How many hours of sleep do you need?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7–9 hours of sleep per night for adults between the ages of 18-64. Of course, people’s individual sleeping needs vary depending on numerous factors, including specific age, sex, amount you exercise, and many other considerations.

Accounting for these variations in people and sleeping patterns, the National Sleep Foundation also says as few as six hours and as many as 10 to 11 hours of sleep per night may be appropriate for young adults 18–25, and six and 10 hours respectively may be appropriate for adults ages 26 to 64. NSF does not recommend fewer than six hours or more than 11 hours for young adults, and fewer than six or more than 10 hours for adults.

How can you sleep better?

It may be tempting to use the help of sleep medicine or another sleeping aid, but there are many steps you can take to solve sleep problems without these drugs. It’s also important to keep in mind the side effects of common prescription sleep medicines, including daytime drowsiness and dizziness, and more complex and potentially harmful side effects, including parasomnias (behaviors people may exhibit and actions people may take while asleep, such as sleepwalking, eating, or driving). Though rare, these disorders can result in serious harm. Be sure to ask a medical professional about all the possible side effects of sleep medications if she prescribes them to you.

There are many minor adjustments you can make to your routine to sleep better.

• Stick to a sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking up at the same time every night, including on weekends, helps regulate your body clock.

• Avoid bright lights. Turn off electronics with bright screens, including your laptop and television, which can stress or excite you, making it more difficult to fall asleep.

• Practice a bedtime routine. Engage in a relaxing activity, such as reading a book or meditating. Make sure the activity doesn’t involve bright lights, which will only agitate you. A bedtime routine will help you associate certain activities with sleeping.

• Exercise. Not only will daily exercise improve your overall health and well-being, but it can also help you fall asleep and sleep more deeply. While rigorous exercise has the most benefits, even a short walk can improve your sleeping. (Don’t do it right before bed, though, since this will raise your body temperature and make it more difficult to fall asleep.)

• Improve your sleeping conditions. Make sure you’re sleeping on a comfortable bed and pillows. Keep your bedroom relatively cool (between 60 and 67 degrees, according to the National Sleep Foundation) and free of noise and distractions.

• Use your bed only for sleep and sex. This will help you associate your bed with sleeping. Also avoid naps during the day, so you’ll rest better at night. If you need to, take your naps early in the day, keep them under 20 minutes.

• Avoid certain foods and drinks later in the day. Don’t eat a big meal right before bed. Cut the caffeine around noon. Alcohol and cigarettes can also disrupt your sleep.

• If you can’t sleep, go into another room and do something else until you feel tired. Avoid electronics and work you brought home, because they might agitate you. Instead, engage in a relaxing activity, such as reading a book or listening to music. If you do opt to read, avoid tablets that have back lights.

How do you deal with sleep disorders?

If you have a sleep disorder, such as sleep apnea, suffer from extreme sleep deprivation, or feel that your sleeping problems are taking a toll on your work and other aspects of your waking life, seek out the help of a medical professional.

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