How much sleep does a person really need?
There is no set amount; everyone is different. That said, humans do need at least six hours of sleep a night. Young people—up to their 30s—tend to need more, maybe as much as eight or nine hours. As we age, the total sleep time needed does decrease. Basically, if you’re sleeping well and waking up refreshed, you’re getting the amount that’s right for you.
Why do our sleep needs change as we get older?
We don’t know exactly why, but studies have shown that people’s total sleep time decreases as they age—including the amount of slow wave sleep (the deepest phase of non-rapid eye movement sleep) they get. This is a perfectly normal trend. As you get older, it’s also normal to go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier. This is called the “advanced sleep phase.”
What are things that can interfere with the quality of one's sleep?
Certain medications, especially antidepressants, can keep you from getting enough slow wave or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Alcohol can also interfere with sleep quality. A drink before bedtime can make you fall asleep faster, but as the alcohol is metabolized, it fragments sleep, so you actually don’t sleep as well when you’ve had alcohol.
What is sleep hygiene?
Sleep hygiene is a set of instructions for implementing behaviors that are conducive to sound sleep. Examples of good sleep hygiene include not watching television in bed, avoiding caffeine after about noon, avoiding alcohol before bedtime, and dimming the lights about an hour before bedtime. Also, it’s best, of course, not to smoke at all, but if you do, you shouldn't smoke for four or five hours before bedtime since tobacco is a stimulant. Exercising during the day (but not right before going to bed) can also help you get a good night’s sleep.
What's the best way to make up for lost sleep?
Chronic sleep deprivation is very common. If you’re chronically sleep-deprived because you don’t get enough sleep during the week, you can’t make it up by sleeping late on the weekends. The only way to pay back the sleep debt is to adjust your lifestyle so that you get more sleep on a regular basis. A longer block of sleep at night is best, but if you can’t manage that, a 30-minute nap during the day can be useful for some people. Napping any longer than half an hour can make it even more difficult to sleep at night. Individuals have different biological clocks—some are morning people, some are night owls. When trying to adjust your lifestyle for better sleep, it’s best to do what suits your natural rhythms.
What are the most common mistakes people make when it comes to sleep?
People have such busy lifestyles that they tend to stay involved with work and other activities right up until it's time to turn in. But it's important to wind down before trying to sleep. Just as getting exercise during the day can be helpful, becoming more sedentary in the evening is important for getting a good night's sleep.