Sleep: We all do it, but are we doing it right? Here’s everything you need to know about how much sleep you should be getting every night, what happens if you don’t get that much sleep, how to improve your sleep health and even how to determine when your bedtime should be.
How Much Sleep Should I Be Getting?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults should be getting between seven and nine hours of sleep each night. OK, that’s a great goal, but getting less than seven hours every now and then can’t be that bad, right? Not so fast. The effects of sleep deprivation can be way more serious than just feeling tired and grumpy the day after. Studies have linked sleep deprivation to increased stress, cognitive impairment, high blood pressure and overeating. Yikes.
How Do I Know What Bedtime Is Best for Me?
The most logical way to determine when you should go to sleep is to think about when you need to wake up for work, wake up the kids or whatever else you do to start your morning, and count back from there. According to researchers at the University of Cambridge, it takes most people between five and 20 minutes to fall asleep, so when counting back to determine your bedtime, add 20 or so minutes onto that seven- to nine-hour recommendation. So if you have to be at work at 9 a.m. and you need two hours to get ready and commute, you should go to sleep between 9:40 p.m. and midnight.
Still, according to experts and studies, the time you fall asleep isn’t the most important factor in determining how well-rested you are in the morning. What is super important, though, is that you get enough sleep, and that you stick to a schedule.
Here’s another tip from the National Sleep Foundation: If you wake up before your alarm goes off, try moving your bedtime a bit later; if you find yourself struggling to stay awake until the bedtime you’ve set, try shifting it a bit earlier.
Once you’ve determined the bedtime that works for you, stick with it every day—even weekends. Matthew Walker, the director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, told Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that “catching up” on sleep over the weekend is a complete myth.
“Sleep is not like the bank—so you can’t accumulate a debt and then try and pay it off at a later point in time,” Walker said. “The brain has no capacity to get back that lost sleep.” There goes our brilliant sleep strategy. Instead, he advises waking up at the same time every morning (yep, even on Sundays). That way, you keep your body’s internal clock consistent, and you’re more apt to doze off early the next night and get actual quality sleep.
How Do I Get the Best Night’s Sleep Possible?
Being sleep-deprived—even for one night—sucks. Luckily, there are tricks and products you can try to get your full seven to nine hours. According to Dr. Martha Cortes, a New York City-based dentist who sub-specializes in the treatment of sleep breathing disorders, you shouldn’t just lie there when you can’t sleep; you should write.
The creative act of writing things down—whether that’s all the random thoughts running through your mind or even just a to-do list—will help your brain ease into relaxation mode, Dr. Cortes tells us. One caveat, though: Write with a pen and paper, not on your phone or a computer, which can be counterproductive and actually keep you up even longer. If you absolutely must use a computer, Dr. Cortes recommends investing in a blue-light-blocking screen protector.
Before you hit the hay, be aware of what you’re eating and drinking. Nutritionist Samantha Cassetty, RD, explains that chowing down too close to bedtime can mess with your sleep. “Lying down close to eating can cause acid reflux, which can arouse you or wake you periodically during the night,” Cassetty notes. “This situation limits that deep, restorative sleep you need to function well during the day.” Her suggestion? Finish eating at least two hours before hitting the hay.
Another product that could help promote better sleep? Pillow sprays like this one from ThisWorks. Spritz this aromatherapeutic blend of lavender and vetiver (known as the “oil of tranquility”) onto your pillows before bed and absorb the calm, soothing scent and vibes. Sweet dreams, friends.