We spend a third of our lives sleeping. Sleep is essential for health because it allows recovery, both physically and psychologically. However, we are not all equal when it came to sleep; the ideal length of sleep varies greatly from one individual to another. Some people, like Celine Dion, turn out to be heavy sleepers (12 hours a night), while others seem to be designed to need only 5 hours of sleep. The record in this area is held by an Australian who sleeps 3 hours and 30 hours a night!
Is it possible to sleep too much, or conversely, not enough? Shouldn’t we listen to our needs?
Why do we sleep?
We sleep because we are active and tired. When our organization is exhausted, we can no longer work. Each living being (composed of cells with a nucleus) has a circadian cycle (the biological rhythm of about 24 hours) characterized by alternating phases of sleep and awakening. The management of this wake-sleep cycle depends on our internal biological clocks, which are sensitive to light. They have synchronized over time with the light-darkness cycle of nature.
Sleep is necessary for life. Indeed, an experiment with rats (which, strangely, have genes and behaviors similar to those of humans) showed that rats die when, in the laboratory, they are prevented from sleeping for a period of 1 to 4 weeks. Humans would therefore be programmed to sleep each day for a “long phase” (6 to 8 hours at night) or two “short phases” (5 to 6 hours at night and 1 to 2 hours in the afternoon).
How many hours of sleep do I need to sleep?
The ideal sleep time is biologically different for each person. An adult’s standard is 7 to 8 hours, but it varies between 3 and 12 hours in reality.
On the other hand, the older we get, the less we need to sleep. A baby will need, on average, 15 to 20 hours of sleep compared to 10 to 12 hours for a child. On the other hand, a teenager will normally need 9 to 10 hours, and only 7 to 8 hours will be needed for the adult. An older adult, on the other hand, needs very little sleep.
Our need to sleep is also determined, in large part, by hereditary provisions. So you can’t choose the right amount of sleep to feel good. Indeed, it is proven that if we reduce our sleep time by only one hour for several nights, a feeling of fatigue and exhaustion will be felt during the day. Similarly, if we extend our usual sleep by one hour, the sleep quality will be less good and result in frequent awakenings.
As a result, the amount of sleep you need is the amount of sleep that allows you to engage in a long activity while sitting, staying focused, and without drowsiness.
Therefore, it is essential to get to know each other well to find the ideal sleep duration. But how do you know if you’ve slept enough or too little? A good test to know your rhythm is to ask yourself the following questions:
- In the morning, do I feel tired or in good shape?
- In the day, do I experience periods of drowsiness?
- Do I have trouble focusing my attention on something during the day?
It goes without saying that if you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you need more sleep than you currently do. If, on the contrary, you answered “no,” your amount of sleep is perfect for you.
Am I a small or a big sleeper?
To better understand the amount of sleep that suits you, it is interesting to know if you are a small or a heavy sleeper. As a general rule, the clues are not misleading.
So you’re a little sleeper if:
- You are relatively fit after a night when you have little sleep (3 or 4 hours);
- on holiday or weekends, you don’t sleep much more than during the year;
- Sleeping 8 hours is considered to be the maximum amount of sleep for you;
- you don’t like hanging out in bed when you wake up.
On the other hand, you’re a big sleeper if:
- You can’t stand sleeping much.
- on holiday or weekends, you sleep much longer than during the year
- Sleeping 8 hours is often not considered a big night’s sleep;
- you usually limit your outings based on the amount of sleep you need.
The amount of your sleep versus its quality
However, whether you are a small or a heavy sleeper, the amount of your sleep will count relatively little if its quality is impaired. Indeed, you can feel in perfect shape after only 5 hours of rest if your sleep has been deep and recovering. In contrast, 10 hours may not be enough if your night has been strewn with frequent awakenings and your sleep has remained light.
Some tips for a good sleep
It is important to understand that the body needs to “settle down” quietly towards sleep. Therefore, it is recommended to establish a small ritual in the evening to get your body used to relax before sinking into the arms of Morpheus. Thus, certain precautions or habits are to be adopted. Here are some leads.
Avoid eating too late and too fat.
The body slows down its rhythm in the evening. So digestion is slower. Avoid eating a too large or too fatty meal in the evening not to strain your digestive organs to whom you will ask for extra effort to accomplish their usual task.
Avoid eating too spicy, caffeinated, or sweet.
Ginger, pepper, curry, and chili, to name a few, are spices that stimulate the body. The same goes for sugar and caffeine. Avoid eating these ingredients at the end of the day.
Try to respect regular bedtime and bedtime. Your body will condition itself quietly to fall into sleep when the time comes.
Whether it’s playing sports, listening to an action movie, having an intense conversation with your spouse, or thinking about an agonizing situation, it’s a good choice to avoid anything that might create too much stimulation, or even stress, before bedtime. Your body will tend to want to vent this extra excitement during sleep, which will cause frequent awakenings.
The importance of ritual
Try to establish a calming ritual for your body. For example, drinking a hot beverage (decaffeinated), settling down comfortably for a light reading, taking a hot bath, or listening to soft music are all examples that will promote good sleep.
Spending your energy well during the day
Deep and recovering sleep will undoubtedly be done if you are also active during the day. A day of lying down without expending energy will most likely result in a lighter sleep at night.
Avoid disruptive agents during sleep
There are four main phases of sleep:
- light sleep
- deep sleep
- REM sleep.
We recover during deep sleep. Thus, it is essential to allow the body to reach this phase since it allows the body to repair itself and gain strength. If this is the case, try to resolve the presence of the disruptive agents in your sleep (a noise, a smell, a light, a child who wakes up too often, an animal, a spouse who stirs too much, etc.) that will interfere with the attainment of deep sleep.
Avoid an ambient temperature that is too high or too low
Find a comfortable temperature for your bedroom and make sure it stays constant at night. Also, increasing the supply of oxygen by opening the window is a simple and very effective recommendation to promote a recovery sleep.
Good rest, whether it’s long or not!