You probably already know just how important sleep is for your health, vitality, and longevity. Modern neuroscientists have confirmed its importance, noting that getting enough sleep is absolutely crucial for staying productive and healthy, and for maintaining your brain’s long-term function.
So, how much sleep is ideal—and how much is just enough? The amount of sleep you need for optimal health is more than you might think, at least according to Penn State adjunct professor and sleep researcher, Dan Gartenberg, PhD.
We’ve heard for many decades that eight hours a night is the ideal amount to maintain a good sleep schedule. Some organizations, like the National Sleep Foundation, advocate anywhere between 7 and 9 hours of rest each night. In fact, they say that babies, teens, and seniors need even more sleep than that. You may aspire to an eight-hour routine, or you may already be getting your eight hours in as the moon rises each evening.
However, in an interesting Q&A, Gartenberg explained that as an adult, you should probably be getting at least half an hour more than that. He also believes that you might be able to improve your sleeping habits and fit more sleep into your everyday routine with just a few simple adjustments.
Here’s why eight hours of shuteye might not be quite enough to ensure your optimal health.
You Need More Sleep, Even if You Feel Well-Rested
You could still be experiencing sleep deprivation even if you don’t feel that way. Research has shown that our brains are bad at being able to tell if we need more sleep when we have been deprived of it.
If you really want to know exactly how much sleep you should be getting every night, Gartenberg suggests a simple and appealing test. He recommends going on a vacation, breaking away from the distractions of work completely, and sleeping as late as you’d like to.
Hit the hay at your usual time, and then see when you wake up naturally each morning. He says that after a couple of days, you’ll naturally fall into a pattern that will tell you how much sleep you truly need.
Eight Hours is Good—Eight and a Half is Better
According to Gartenberg, eight and a half hours of sleep needs to be the “new eight hours.” Why is that, you might ask? Well, even people who don’t suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders spend at least 10% of their time in bed, not sleeping at all. They spend this time either falling asleep or waking up.
This means that if you’re in bed for a solid eight hours, you will actually only be sleeping for around 7.2 hours, even if you are a healthy sleeper. To get a full eight hours of shuteye, which is what most people need to thrive, ‘normal’ sleepers need to be in bed for eight and a half hours between the time they close their eyes, and the time their alarms wake them in the morning.
You Need to Implement Better Sleep Practices
Have you heard of sleep hygiene? The term pertains to your nightly sleeping practices and how conducive they are to good quality rest. The better your sleeping practices are, the quicker you’ll be able to fall asleep and stay that way. Thus, implementing great sleep hygiene is the key to maximizing the benefits of the time you spend asleep.
Gartenberg says that ideal conditions for sleep include cooler temperatures, a silent room, and darkness, which you can create by using blackout shades over your bedroom windows. Having the right type of mattress is also crucial to good sleep hygiene. If you’re in any discomfort due to your mattress being too hard, too soft, or unable to offer adequate support, you won’t sleep well.
Additionally, you can ensure a better night’s sleep by using your bedroom only for sleeping and resting-related activities. This means no working, exercising, or exploring hobbies in this room! You should also avoid exposure to blue light from smartphone, tablet, computer, and TV screens right before bedtime.
If You Can’t Get A Full Eight Hours, Nap Instead
If you battle to get a full eight hours every night, there’s a silver lining in sight. Gartenberg says that you don’t need to get your full allotment of sleep all in one go. In fact, it’s perfectly fine if you wake up for a few hours during the night too. You can get some of your sleep in the form of morning or afternoon naps, as you see fit.
He says that if he gets fewer than eight hours during the night, he often takes thirty-minute power naps at midday to give him a much-needed energy boost. Many people prefer to push through their exhaustion with the aid of coffee and other stimulants, but this approach can negatively impact your productivity.
When that late afternoon drowsiness sets in, enjoying a nap may boost your productivity levels instead and offer you the full range of benefits that an eight-hour sleep habit provides!
Signs that You Need More Sleep
If you’re still unsure about whether you need to add additional sleep to your routine, there are a few telltale signs that can help you decide.
You could be needing an extra hour or two of sleep each night if you are dealing with:
- Persistent exhaustion or fatigue that only improves with sleep
- Coexisting health issues or a high risk of certain diseases
- High daily energy expenditure due to work or personal responsibilities
- Being dependent on caffeine to get through your day
- Needing to sleep more on days when you have an open schedule.
The Bottom Line
Even if you’re in bed for eight hours every night, you might not be getting the amount of sleep your brain and body need to perform at their peak. Experts like Dr. Gartenberg recommend giving yourself an extra half hour so that you can get the full eight hours of sleep recommended by neuroscientists across the globe.
Practice good sleep hygiene, avoid blue light at night, and pay attention to signs that you could need more rest. You’ll almost certainly be better off for it.