- Terri K. Lankford, LPCS, NCC, LCAS
The Sleep Series: How Much and When
It’s something we’ve been hearing about since we were kids. “You better get to bed!” “The early bird catches the worm.” “Gotta get that 8 hours of sleep”.” “If you don’t wake up, I’ll throw cold water on you!” Ok, maybe that last one was just me?
But there’s always been this idea of WHEN we SHOULD sleep and HOW MUCH we need of it.
We learned HERE why sleep is so important. But we seem to be either striving to get more, or we’re not getting enough, or how do we “hack sleep” so that we can do all the things. What is too much or not enough? And we all know plenty of people that burn that candle at both ends.
So how much sleep should you REALLY be striving to get?
Research says, it depends on your age, but Adults should sleep 7-9 hours per night on a regular basis to promote optimal health. Sleeping less than 7 hours per night on a regular basis is associated with adverse health outcomes, including weight gain and obesity, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, and increased risk of death.
Besides the health risks to yourself, A study shows that moderate sleep deprivation produces impairments equivalent to those of alcohol intoxication. After 17 to 19 hours without sleep, performance was equivalent or worse than that of a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of 0.05 percent. After longer periods without sleep, performance reached levels equivalent to a BAC of 0.1 percent.
To put that into perspective, most states set their DUI limits at a BAC of 0.08 percent for those over the age of 21. Any younger and DUI limits drop anywhere from 0 percent to 0.02 percent. The average legal limit for commercial drivers is a BAC of 0.04 percent. Skipping one day's sleep already makes you legally incapable of driving. So besides you’re own health risks, you’re also driving around putting others (as well as yourself) at risk as well.
So seriously though, how much sleep do I need?
I stick to striving for the 7.5 hour rule because when we factor in how long it will take to fall asleep, how my sleep may be interrupted throughout the night, what I’ve done during the day, and how my body needs to heal it just works for me.
I came to that conclusion based on the fact that a sleep cycle lasts about 90 (to 110) minutes, and during that time we move through five stages of sleep. The first four stages make up our non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the fifth stage is when rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs. It turns out though that it's not as simple as putting together 4 to 6 of the 90 minute sleep cycle because over the course of the night, the amount of time we spend in a particular stage of sleep begins to shift.
Apparently how much NREM and REM sleep we get is not just based on where we are in our nightly sleep, but it also depends on what time of day or night it is. Regardless of when you fall asleep, people tend to experience more NREM sleep in the earlier hours of the night (e.g., 11 p.m. – 3 a.m.) and more REM sleep in the later hours of the night (e.g., 3 a.m. – 7 a.m.). So those after-hours mutants, or the Wolfs as you’ll learn below, are getting more REM sleep overall than are the early-to-bedders. As with many other aspects of sleep, the need for all this complexity in our sleep cycles is still a mystery.
Ok, Ok, so how much sleep isn’t an exact science, but WHEN should I sleep again?
If you’ve ever noticed that you tend to feel energized and drowsy around the same times every day, you have your circadian rhythm to thank. What is it, exactly? Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. It's also known as your sleep/wake cycle.
According to sleep expert and The Power of When author Dr. Michael Breus, your unique wiring (aka sleep chronotype) determines your most energetic times of day. You likely already know whether you’re a morning person or a night owl, but while working with insomnia patients, Dr. Breus observed that everyone’s circadian rhythm is slightly different and he takes circadian rhythms one step further with sleep classifications called chronotypes, which will help you figure out the best time of day to make an important decision, work out, and do anything better. Based on morning and evening preferences, he identified four different chronotypes, or circadian rhythm personalities, and then associated each one with an animal whose sleep-wake habits best mirrored them. When Breus switched up his patients’ daily routines to accommodate their sleep chronotype, their productivity soared and sleep issues resolved.
The Chronotypes are:
Bear: Most people fall into this category. Bears’ circadian rhythm follows the sun, and they sleep easily. If you’re a bear, recharge during the mid-afternoon, when bears feel an energy dip.
Wolf: If you’re a night person (aka wolf), burn the midnight oil and go to bed later so there will be less tossing and turning. Get most of your work done between noon and 2pm, and around 5pm — those are wolves’ most productive times of day.
Lion: Lions wake up early and power through the morning. If you’re a lion, go to bed early instead of binging on Netflix.
Dolphin: If you struggle to fall asleep and wake up frequently during the night, you’re a dolphin. Schedule your most demanding work between mid-morning and early afternoon.
Take Dr. Breus’ Sleep Chronotype Quiz and learn about your spirit animal. Answering some simple questions will help you understand your natural rhythms.
Then you can work to Re-organize your day. Work with your wiring, not against it and See how you feel. As you structure your day differently, pay attention to how your productivity, energy and tiredness respond. Tweak it until it’s just right.
And you may be left wondering.... but HOW do I even get to sleep to begin with? Don’t worry, those tips will be up next in our Sleep Series!
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