How to Determine Your Ideal Sleep Time
When you have a small child you put it down for a nap when it gets cranky. How often do you put yourself down for a nap? You give children a bedtime to ensure they get enough sleep for their next big day but how often do you give yourself a bedtime (and actually observe it)?
Everything we needed to know about sleep we knew as a child but as we get older it is often the first thing sacrificed when our time is short, or our job is long, or stuff just gets in the way.
Here are some critical tips to help you ensure your body gets enough sleep.
- Figure out how much sleep you need. Conduct a self-experiment on a day where you have no commitments. Go to sleep at your regular weekday time and sleep until your body naturally wakes up. This means turn off your alarms, turn the ringer off on the phone and darken the room. Track the number of hours from the time you got in bed until the time you naturally woke up. This time – whether it is 6 hours or 16 hours, is the amount of sleep your body currently needs.
- Try and get the amount of sleep in tip #1. Once you know your magic number, can you work backwards from the time you need to be up for your day and determine your bedtime. If you need to be up at 6am and you needed 8 hours of sleep then bedtime is 10pm. It may seem impossible to be in bed by your best time, but trial it for a week. See if you can be more effective during the day by getting more rest at night. The result may surprise you.
- Don’t go to bed after 11pm. The late night talk shows are the best, but really once you cross the 11pm hour you shift your body into overdrive and onward to functioning for the next day. If you are anything like me once the clock hits 11:01pm I could stay up all night. Wouldn’t it be a lot better to go to sleep at 10:30pm and take 10 minutes to fall asleep, then to go to bed at 11:30pm and take an hour or more to wind down? Not only do you spend less time encouraging the body to fall asleep, you get more sleep!
- Dream a Little Dream. When I ask patients if they dream, inevitably they initially say no, and then slowly recount recalling a wild adventure they conjured up earlier in the week. If you say no and mean it, you are definitely not getting enough sleep. Our REM sleep is well into our sleep cycle and it is the place where the wild adventures of our brain are created. We sleep in waves falling deeper and deeper into sleep. If you are never getting to the place where you are dreaming you are definitely short on sleep. Refer back to #1 and determine how much sleep you need.
- Use Supplements to Help Support Your Body Initially. Some patients have a hard time creating enough melatonin naturally in their body to make them feel sleepy and enable them to fall quickly asleep at night. This can happen with exposure to light, missing nutrients and overstressed lives. These all affect the amount of melatonin our body releases and how sleepy it makes us feel. Supplementing with melatonin orally about 30 minutes prior to bed can help support our body in generating the sleepy feeling it needs to drift us off into bliss. Melatonin isn’t addicting, and in fact supplementing with more can encourage our body to make more as it adapts to the amount we need to fall asleep. Most patients start off taking a low dose (0.5 – 1mg) about 30 minutes before bed. If you trial this and don’t feel rested, take an additional dose. If you wake up in the morning and feel groggy, you have probably taken a little more then you need so cut back a little the next night. Melatonin is very safe, and most patients will find less than 3mg is all that is needed to help them fall and stay asleep.
Each of us has our own ideal amount of sleep required, for our brain, our body and our stress level. Even if everyone else in your life needs only 4 hours to get by, you probably don’t, and you also probably don’t want to simply get by.
If you have tried the tips above and still found sleep a continual issue, it might be time to talk to your health care provider about what else can be keeping you awake. Adrenal glands overacting can make it seem impossible to shut off the chatter in your head, or may have you jolted awake between 2 – 4am. Some others find each morning starts abruptly with their heart racing and chest pounding. These concerns can signal deficiencies in the body from amino acids to essential minerals such as magnesium, or hormones such as progesterone or melatonin. Cortisol dysregulation tends to burn through some of the essential components in our body that helps us to get good rest.
Getting enough sleep each night not only enables us to be productive, but it also ensures that the wear and tear on our body is properly repaired each night, preventing premature aging, illness and disease. Take some time this weekend and find your sleep sweet spot. You will be glad you made the effort.
Note: This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The words and other content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice. If the reader or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately-licensed health care worker.