Updated: Oct 9, 2018
The Quantity versus Quality debate.
When it comes to hours asleep at night, what’s your magic number?
How many hours sleep per night should we get?
In reality it could be very different for you compared to the next person. In general we tend to sleep less as we get older: children sleep less than babies, teenagers less than children, adults less than teenagers etc and also the more physically and mentally active we are during the day generally the more sleep we need.
The magic ‘8 hours’ often talked about in the media is not always the amount that we need. Sleep quantity is not always the same as sleep quality. And getting ‘more sleep’ is not always the same as getting ‘better sleep’.
1. Sleep Stages and Waking Well.
When we sleep at night, our bodies go through a sleep cycle involving 4 main stages. Each full cycle lasts around 90 minutes (but this does vary slightly from person to person!) and we go through several cycles per night whilst we sleep.
Our sleep cycles can be divided into Non-REM sleep (stages N1, N2 and N3) and REM which stands for Rapid Eye Movement and is generally the stage most associated with dreaming.
The early stages of sleep are the lightest and the easiest to wake up from, whereas the later the stage the heavier the sleep and the harder to wake up.
If you are someone who really struggles to wake up in the morning- or you are often in a state of dreaming right before your alarm goes off, you may want to consider whether you are waking up in the wrong stage of your sleep cycle? You may find either shortening or lengthening your time in bed by 30 minutes easier to wake from as you could be in a lighter stage of sleep. This could be far more refreshing than ploughing on with an ‘ideal number’ of hours that doesn’t really work for you.
2. Napping and your Sleep Cycles
Each of our sleep stages have a distinctive function but even getting snatches of early stage sleep (in the form of napping) can have a negative effect on your ability to run through your full sleep cycle at night. Throughout a normal day of wakefulness our bodies build up a sleep debt (or sleep drive). Just before we hope to go to sleep, we would expect that our sleep debt would be at its highest. As we sleep, the debt is paid and our energy levels are restored. Napping during the day (especially close to bedtime) pays off some of that debt and lowers our drive to sleep when bedtime comes around- even in small doses! Think of it a bit like being thirsty, the longer we have been without something to drink- the thirstier we become and the deeper we need to drink!
3. Snooze!: Building Healthy Waking Habits
In recent years the western world has become more and more addicted to the use of the ‘Snooze’ button.
Once upon a time we may have set a back-up alarm on a separate clock or had a loved one on standby for an important date to make sure that we didn’t oversleep, but these days the ‘snooze’ is a daily occurrence with people reporting setting alarms an hour or sometimes two hours before they have any intention of waking up.
This has the potential to cause a number of issues:
You start to retrain your brain to ignore your alarm. The more often you turn off your alarm and go back to sleep, the stronger the association becomes that it’s okay to do this.
When you are disturbed from your sleep cycle, you reset to stage one (light sleep). If you spend an hour or two with 10 minute snippets of snoozing in the light stages of sleep, this is doing very little to restore or rejuvenate your body and could leave you feeling more drained or exhausted.
Give yourself a break and the benefit of the extra time actually sleeping by setting your alarm for the time you expect or need to get up!
You can help yourself banish the Snooze button by supercharging your ‘alerting signals’ that we discussed in our last blog:
Movement: Place your alarm on the opposite side of the room to your bed so you are getting your body up and active straight away in the morning.
Light: Open your curtains and let the natural light in or turn on all of your bedroom lights
Air: Open your window and let in some fresh air. For a double bonus take 3 deliberate and deep breaths of morning air and really fill your lung with oxygen.
Noise: Turn on the radio, TV, or better yet make some noise yourself! Nothing says “I’m awake!” quite like saying it!!
Food: Eating and drinking sends signals to the brain and body that it’s daytime. Even if you struggle with your appetite in the morning, try having a little bit of something or at the least a big glass of water to start rehydrating and waking your system up.
Routine: Think about what you usually do as part of your morning routine: showering? washing your face? Brushing your teeth? Getting dressed? Your brain will have learned to associate these activities with morning ‘awake’ time. If you struggle being able to focus in the morning you can make it as easy as possible for your sleepy morning self to do these things by prepping some of them the night before. Try laying out your clothes ready or ensuring that your dressing gown and towel are within easy reach of the shower etc.
In our next blog on Sleep:
Learning Theory: from Pavlov's Dogs to Brain Training for Better Sleep
Building a better relationship with your bed
And even more helpful ways to improve your sleep.
If you give any of the hits and tips above a try let us know how you get on by commenting below! If you have any specific sleep issues whether covered in this blog or not, we would love to hear from you!
We might even be able to sneek some tips into our next blog, just for you!
Wake Well Everyone!