How many hours of sleep do you need?
How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?
We hear it all the time: Get eight straight hours of sleep a night. Where did this prescription come from? The study most often cited in support of the eight-hour claim was performed in 1993 by Thomas Wehr, M.D., at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. In this study, 16 volunteers lay in bed in a darkened room for 14 straight hours a day for four weeks. At first, the volunteers slept more than 12 hours a day on average. After a few weeks, most reduced their sleep time to somewhere between seven-and-a-half and nine hours. Wehr concluded that this is the optimal amount of sleep.
There is another way to interpret this study, however. Does the amount of sleep we get under ideal conditions — perfect silence and darkness, with lots of time to relax — reflect how much sleep we really need? Imagine if you were put in front of a banquet of delicious food and told that you had to stay there for several hours with nothing to do but eat. How much would you eat? More than you usually would? More, perhaps, than you should? You can see where we're going with this analogy. This research doesn't necessarily tell us how much sleep is crucial for good health. It indicates only how many hours people will sleep when there's nothing else to do.
You're the only person who knows what it's like to inhabit your body. If you've always needed 10 hours of sleep and feel terrible without it, use that information. Don't stumble around exhausted and miserable because a study tells you that eight hours is best. Conversely, if you feel great on six hours of sleep, go for it.
How much sleep you need can also change over a lifetime. You may need a lot of sleep during adolescence, less in your 20s and 30s, and even less after menopause. During early motherhood and perimenopause, outside forces such as crying babies and hot flashes might limit how much sleep you get. But these phases don't last forever, and most women do not develop serious health problems as a result of going through them. In fact, keep in mind that if you have insomnia on one particular night, or even for a whole week's worth of nights, research shows that the number of sleep hours we get over the course of the year usually averages out to a normal amount. Just do your best to get the sleep you can and try not to let the eight-hour sleep myth keep you up at night!
Pretty Healthy Sleep Solutions
If you're not getting as much sleep as your body needs — say, you're constantly yawning, irritable, unfocused, and physically exhausted — then it's time to tweak your habits.
Start with these tried-and-true tips, which we've ordered from easiest to more challenging:
Keep your bedroom cooler.
Watch television, work, and read somewhere other than your bed.
Don't eat a big meal just before bedtime.
If your sleep still needs improvement after a few days, add these steps, one at a time:
Expose yourself to 30 minutes of sunlight every day, whether you're outside or just near a window.
Don't drink caffeine after 4 p.m.
Limit yourself to one glass of alcohol in the evening. (Alcohol can help you fall asleep faster, but it disrupts your sleep later on.)
Exercise during the day — not before bed, because your body temperature will be too high to induce sleep.
Avoid disturbing books or television shows before bed, including the news. (We won't tell you not to stay up late watching TV. This seems unfair. After 16 straight hours of working and caregiving, women aren't allowed to unwind in front ofThe Daily Show?)
Then, if you need to, move on to the hard stuff:
Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
Get out of bed when you can't sleep.
Video: Science Explains How Much Sleep You Need Depending on Your Age
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