In an ideal world, we would all drift off at 10pm every night, awakening refreshed and revitalised at 6am prompt the following morning. An ideal world this is not, and in all honesty, when was the last time you enjoyed eight unbroken hours of sleep?
We spoke to three experts to find out whether this is really the optimum amount, or whether we’re all feeling deprived for no reason.
Get into the habit
“Eight hours of sleep is what we need – yet often not what we get during a working week,” says Dr Paul Kelley from the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford. “It is not a rigid rule but a good habit. If you’re going out with friends, don’t worry – and try to get more sleep the next day. Don’t sleep during the day – the sleep does not have to be replaced hour for hour, just sleep until you wake naturally. Some of us need an hour extra (often when younger); some are fine with an hour less (often when older). Still, eight hours a day to relax in your daily routine is a good way to live. Combined with exercise and healthy food (don’t eat a lot in the last couple of hours before sleep, and stop consuming coffee in the early afternoon), good sleep is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle.”
Put down your phone
“A 'normal’ sleep pattern depends on the individual and their own circadian rhythm (biological clock),” says Faye Langworthy, product director at This Works. “Therefore we do not believe that one size fits all when it comes to achieving a good night’s sleep. However, there are sleep rules that everyone can follow to improve sleep quality and break unhealthy sleep patterns. Keep the room dark and relatively cool (between 16 and 18 degrees) and do not look at digital devices in the final hours preceding sleep. It is essential people limit their exposure to blue light in the few hours before they go to bed. If you must use your smartphone, tablet or computer late in the evening, try turning down the brightness, ensuring that the device is at least 12 inches from your eyes.”
Do a sleep test
“Many underestimate the importance - and impact - of a good night’s sleep,” says time management expert Cory Cook. “Whether we realise it or not, sleep - or lack of it - affects several aspects of our day to day functions; our mood, performance, productivity, ability to make decisions and mental alertness. It also affects our appearance, immune system and appetite.” We go through a series of cycles and phases needed to fully restore our energy, among other things. Not getting enough sleep short-circuits the process, which negatively impacts our ability to function at our best. The amount of sleep we need is unique to each of us, so an effective way to work out what we need is to perform a sleep test. You will need more than one night, so carry it out over a period when you can afford the extra time in the morning. Get to bed at a set time each night, and don’t set an alarm, allowing yourself to wake naturally the next day. A few days of this and you’ll likely begin to wake around the same time, indicating the amount of sleep optimal for you.”