Last night was an adventure in our house.
Firstly, our little man couldn’t get to sleep. Then our daughter traipsed down the hall and joined us in bed. Then she started coughing and I got up and popped our diffuser on. She went back to sleep and our little man woke up all congested wanting his diffuser on. I fell asleep with him and our little girl woke up. I wasn’t in bed with her, so she came to find me. Then when all three of us were oh so comfortably settled in my son’s single bed, he reached his arms up overhead and knocked over an enormous glass of water drenching all three of us, and his bed.
We all ended up in with hubbie. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of sleep for anyone.
But how much sleep do we actually need?
Napoleon is famously quoted as saying, ‘Six hours sleep for a man, seven for a lady and eight for a fool.’ Ouch. I heard it slightly differently in yoga circles over the years as, ‘Six hours for a man, seven for a lady and eight for a lazy man.’ Double ouch!
In 2015, the ‘National Sleep Foundation,’ put together an 18 member panel, assessed all the sleep literature they could find and discovered that:
“for healthy individuals with normal sleep, the appropriate sleep duration for newborns is between 14 and 17 hours, infants between 12 and 15 hours, toddlers between 11 and 14 hours, preschoolers between 10 and 13 hours, and school-aged children between 9 and 11 hours. For teenagers, 8 to 10 hours was considered appropriate, 7 to 9 hours for young adults and adults, and 7 to 8 hours of sleep for older adults.”
I hope discovering that didn’t take them too much time or cost too much money! They could have just gone with Napoleon’s theory.
In reality, how much sleep we actually need depends on so many factors. The role of sleep is to rest and repair our bodies while giving our minds time to process and sort the day before, storing the bits we need as memories.
If we want to go to bed and wake up feeling rested, our brains need to journey through the four stages of sleep. Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) 1, 2 and 3 are deepening stages of sleep, with rapid eye movement (REM) being the stage we dream in. These four stages make up one sleep cycle and take around 1 1/2 hours in total. We need five or six of these a night to wake up feeling rested.
Well, I am absolutely certain that didn’t happen for me last night. And yet, after two coffees this morning, I’m absolutely fine!
Boom. There’s our problem.
If you’re drinking caffeinated drinks like I am this morning, hitting the sugar, boozing of an evening, playing games on your phone or tablet before you go to bed, etc, you’re going to be overstimulated and running on adrenaline all day… and crashing late at night because you’re too wired to go to bed earlier.
When this happens, you won’t run through the sleep cycle as you should and you’ll wake up tired… and reaching for a coffee. You might even sleep late and skip brekkie. Then you’ll run out of energy by mid morning and grab something sugary. Then you’ll have an energy low mid afternoon, grab another snack or coffee and be too tired to cook dinner, maybe grabbing takeaway or having beans on toast.
You’ll collapse into bed, sleep poorly and wake up tomorrow to do the same thing again.
Awareness breaks this cycle. Yep, I’ve had two coffees. But I’m having soup for lunch and I’m planning an early night. (The kids ‘should’ be completely exhausted tonight, right?) Tomorrow I won’t need coffee… fingers crossed!
If this is sounding alarmingly familiar and is a long-term habit, you might need help restoring your nervous system so that you can slip back into a more effective circadian rhythm that allows you to move through your sleep cycles fully.
So the answer to our original question, how much sleep do we need, is whatever you need to wake up feeling rested of a morning and tired of an evening. Different lifestyles, body types, fitness levels and lifestyles all effect how much sleep we need, making it a very individual amount. If you’re not waking up feeling exhausted and you’re feeling wired of an evening, and particularly if you’re having the 3 pm slump, reach out for some help. Our ideal is to wake up feeling rested, moving through our day in a balanced state and feeling tired of an evening.
Of course if you have small kids, none of this is any good to you at all. It highly likely that my kids will be nuts again tonight and another sleepless night will follow. In which case my advice is this; cuddle them, watch them sleep, remind yourself that this stage won’t last forever and one day we’ll all be sleeping straight through in our own beds missing the days when we were so needed by such beautiful little people.