Sleep is one of the most important factors that can play into one’s overall health and wellbeing. With more than 20% of Americans suffering from chronic sleep loss or other types of sleep disorders, however, sleep deprivation is a real problem that threatens to disrupt our lives. Weight gain, depression, headaches and more can manifest as a result of not getting enough sleep on a nightly basis, which is often defined as eight hours. But do you really need eight hours of sleep, or has this claim simply become overblown at this point?
A Full Night’s Rest, or Just Advertising?
Millions of Americans have been told for decades that they’re depriving themselves of sleep if they aren’t getting a full eight hours. In reality, though, research indicates that eight hours may not be the right amount for everyone. The claim was born in large part out of advertising campaigns promoting the sale of over-the-counter sleeping pills and other types of sleep medication. Research supporting the need for eight hours of sleep each night doesn’t exist.
Most people sleep between six and a half and seven hours each night, even though many believe they should be getting at least eight hours of sleep. While a certain threshold for the right amount of sleep does exist, it differs for each individual person—eight hours is not a hard and fast rule.
Quality Over Quantity
For many years, the conversation around sleep has focused mainly on how much we actually need. As the eight hour myth continues to be questioned, it’s becoming more and more clear that the quality of our sleep matters more than the number of hours we get each night. There are several factors that can influence quality of sleep, and those who toss and turn for a full eight hours may end up getting less sleep than someone who sleeps soundly for five. There’s even research showing that too much sleep increases the risk of several significant health problems, including heart disease and diabetes.
So, how can you improve the quality of your sleep? Here are just a few things you can do starting right now:
- Get Plenty of Exercise: Physical activity can have a profound impact on sleep quality, with as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise each day being enough to make a difference. The more you can do to tire yourself out throughout the day, the better you’re likely to sleep.
- Avoid Alcohol Before Bed: Alcohol may offer relaxing qualities when consumed in moderate amounts, but it actually disrupts the body’s ability to enter into REM sleep. If you have a big day coming up, avoiding alcohol is a good idea.
- Wind Down Appropriately: Simply jumping into bed at the end of the night may not be enough to allow you to truly wind down. Turn off the blue screens, dim the lights and perhaps read or listen to music for the last hour of the night—and don’t lay in bed unless you’re actually trying to go to sleep.
Sleep clearly has a strong impact on quality of life, but it may not be the eight hour rule you’ve always heard about. Focus on improving the quality of your sleep, and it will become clear in time how much of it you actually need to feel your best before heading out the door each day.