Are you sick and tired of feeling sluggish and unrefreshed even after a full night’s sleep? Believe it or not, this could all be down to the time you choose to go to bed and get up every day.
So, how do you calculate the optimum amount of sleep for your personal health and needs? Never fear, because our resident sleep experts have spent many hours creating a handy guide to help you calculate the perfect sleep routine for YOU.
Our carefully researched method takes into account all the factors that make you a unique individual including age, health status and lifestyle factors. We can even help you figure out the perfect amount of sleep for healthy, happy kids. Once you’ve figured out your ideal sleep routine, check out our expert-approved tips to help you get top-quality sleep EVERY night.
Sleep Calculator: How Does This Work?
First off, you can’t just tack on 8 hours from bedtime, set your alarm and expect a good night’s sleep. Unfortunately, you don’t sleep the same way throughout the night. In fact, your sleep is governed by a series of stages.
In each stage, you undergo difference actions and changes. Interrupting these stages, using for example an alarm clock, makes it feel like you haven’t slept at all- even if you’ve been sleeping for 10 hours. No, the secret to the sleep calculator is understanding the cycles and the stages.
Sleep Calculator To Help You Wake Up Earlier: By understanding sleep cycles and how they relate to sleep stages, you can make changes to your circadian rhythm- a technical term for sleeping and waking triggered by daylight. The key thing is to ensure you complete whole cycles.
What Is A Sleep Cycle?
According to the experts, you sleep in 5 stages. As I mentioned earlier, each stage has its own unique role in helping you to feel well rested.
NREM stands for non-rapid eye movement. It accounts for stages 1 to 4 of your sleep cycle. You begin with a very light sleep which becomes heavier as you progress through stages. During this period, your muscles will be largely inactive but can still function. Your eyes will rarely move whilst your heart rate slows.
No prizes for guessing what REM stands for. Rapid eye movement is the period of sleep when you’re dreaming. It occurs in the final stage of sleep and is accompanied by increased heart-rate, brain activity and muscular paralysis. Curiously, nobody knows why your eyes twitch during this stage although, many suggest it is reflecting action in your dreams.
How Long Are These Sleep Cycles?
Progressing from stage 1 to 5 takes 90 minutes. Sleep cycles loop together so you go from REM stage 5 back into a light NREM sleep at stage 1 without waking in between. So all you have to do is work out how many 90 minutes make up 8 hours, right? Wrong, feeling refreshed after sleep isn’t a matter of simply multiplying 90 4-6 times.
During the night, the amount of time you spend in each stage begins to shift and change within the 90-minute cycle. The first 2 to 3 cycles you’ll spend longer in NREM stages. Later in the night, you spend a larger chunk of a sleep cycle in REM and light sleep.
To make thing’s more complicated, those sleep cycles are also affected by what time it is during the day or night. But here’s the interesting part, scientists have figured out that sleeping a full cycle and waking in NREM sleep is the difference between feeling well-rested and falling asleep at your desk
Best Time To Sleep And Best Time To Wake Up
You have different sleep requirements to me. You also have a different job and a different schedule. Some people will need 9 hours sleep others closer to seven. The trick is to know your sleeping habits and calculate sleep cycles allowing 14 minutes- the time on average it takes to get to sleep- at the beginning and end.
There’s plenty of tools that can work this out for you. All you have to do is type in the time you want to wake up and it gives you three options of bedtime- for longer sleepers, normal sleepers and short sleepers. The key to feeling fresh in the morning, is waking up in between phases of sleep at stage one of your sleep cycle.
What Are The Best Hours of Sleep?
Most people sleep to their schedule. If you work a night shift, your best hours of sleep will be very different from the milkman. You have an internal body-clock as well which tells you when to sleep. The problem is that you’ll have to ignore it in favour of an early meeting or school-run.
Circadian rhythms are not entirely internal. In fact, they are also influenced by light. During the lighter hours you move into lighter sleeps and REM stages. When there’s no light at all, you enter deep sleep.
Working life governs how you sleep, usually to accommodate a 9 to 5 lifestyle. But there is some evidence to suggest that natural sleep would be 6 hours at night with 2 hours in the afternoon. Similar to Mediterranean cultures.
There’s no best hours of sleep. But, there are a few things you can do to improve yours. First off, always make sure you have enough time for sleep, a minimum of seven hours is recommended. If you wake up before your alarm, you should get up straight away. Entering, and interrupting, a sleep cycle for a lie-in will only make you more tired.
Recommended Reading: How Many Pillows Should You Use When Sleeping?
Sleep Length Impact On Lifespan
How sleeping affects lifespan is a topic you should treat with caution. Most studies will use large data which is not hugely accurate. Add to that, causal effects which can’t be measured in a sleep study spanning 50 years and you’ll find the research opens as many questions as it does answers.
That said, there is some evidence that sleeping outside of 7-9 hours increases your chances of premature death. Indeed, according to the NHS, below 6 hours increases premature death by 13%. Surprisingly, above 9 hours increases those chances by 30%. Although, it is perhaps fairer to say that healthy sleep duration indicates healthier lifestyle rather than sleep being the sole factor behind an increase.
For men, it appears poor sleep has a greater effect on lifespan. A study conducted in Helsinki found that too much sleep increased the likelihood of premature death by 24% in men. Although, they did concede that the mechanisms underpinning the study were “poorly understood”
For women, too much sleep increases their mortality rates by one fifth. The four percent swing in comparison to the men suggests that women are less affected by irregular sleeping habits. Another study, conducted in 2010 found that elderly women who slept between 5 and 6 hours a night lived longer than those that didn’t
For both men and women, the scientific consensus seems to be that regular sleeps are more important than the amount of time you sleep. Having said that, sleeping longer than you should has a severe effect on your lifespan whereas sleeping less than you should has a lesser effect. Regardless, we also need to accept that this research is by no means conclusive.
So, if regular sleep is the most important, how do you go about establishing those regular routines? Here’s a few tips to help you.
Tips for Infants
Infants are between 4 and 18 months of age. The younger you are, the more sleep you need. So, as you can guess, your infant needs about 12 to 16 hours of sleep which should be broken up into naps and bedtime.
The trick is to establish a routine. This will help to settle an infant into regular sleeping patterns. Typically, a bedtime routine should last about 30 minutes. Perhaps, a bath, followed by a cuddle, a lullaby or bedtime story, and then lights off. These kinds of routines help to prepare your infant for sleep whilst encouraging regular sleep patterns.
More Reading: How Much Sleep Do Babies and Kids Need?
Tips For Children
Children need roughly 14 hours sleep at around two years old which slowly decreases over years. By the age of 12, they should be sleeping 9 to 12 hours. If you’ve already established a routine from infancy you’ll want to keep that going albeit with a few adjustments.
As your kids get older, they’re going to be less impressed with a lullaby, cuddle or bath. A sad fact, but a true one. Instead, try to fit a more flexible routine. Kids like to go out and play, so set curfews and dinner times and make sure they stick to them.
Before going to bed you should leave an hour aside for kids to wind-down. Calm activities like bathing, doing homework or reading are good activities. Equally, there’s a lot of evidence that screens or smartphones interfere with sleep. Switch off all electronic devices an hour before bed-time to help establish your regular sleep routine.
Teenagers And Adults
The hardest group to please. Teenagers stay out late and sleep in late. It’s hard to hold a teenager to a strict regime but hopefully, if you’ve established a routine through infancy and childhood, they’ll stick to it. Teenagers need to sleep 8 to 10 hours a night. So, bearing that in mind, here’s a few suggestions for a sleep routine for teenagers.
Structuring a day around mealtimes can help to establish good routines. In the evening, make sure all smart devices are shut-off 30 minutes before bed-time. Encourage night-time reading or filling in a journal. Turn the lights out at the end of the half hour.
Adults aren’t too dissimilar from teenagers when it comes to sleep routines. Adults need between 7 and 9 hours a night. Setting aside time away from screens, smart-devices and computers can be really helpful in ensuring a good night’s sleep. Sleeping and waking at a regular time also entrenches your sleeping rhythms.
6 Tips To Wake Up Feeling More Refreshed
Tip One: Listen To Your Body
Sleeping is a natural part of life. Your body tells you when to sleep and when to wake. This is called your circadian rhythm, which is slightly different for every person. Not only that, circadian rhythms are influenced by external factors like sunrise and sunset.
Of course, your circadian rhythm is easily interrupted by car alarms, or flatmates coming home late. But, here’s a few things you can do to help your body clock out.
Try Sleeping And Waking At The Same Time Every Day
This doesn’t have to be accurate to the minute. But establishing a bed-time hour as well as an alarm can really help to sync your body to your schedule. That leads to better, more regular sleep. It can be hard at first, so make sure you sleep when your tired. Set an alarm and stick to it. Regulating your wake-up time will soon regulate your evening’s sleep.
Avoid Sleeping In- Even On Weekends
Hate to be a party pooper but sleeping in is terrible for your sleep cycle. It might feel great at the time, however, you’ll find yourself much more tired. Upsetting your sleep each weekend will mean your body takes the rest of the week to establish its regular routine, by the time it has, it’s the weekend again and you mess it up.
Get up at the same time you normally do, give or take an hour. Even if you’ve gone to bed late, getting up at the same time will help to normalise your sleep. You can always take an afternoon nap if you’re too tired.
Be Smart About Napping
I know I recommended it in the last paragraph, but if you must nap, nap smart. That means dedicating 45 minutes to 90 minutes for a nap. These are called power naps and are exceptionally healthy. Be careful, if you sleep too long, you won’t sleep in the evening, so discipline is a must when it comes to power naps.
Fight After-dinner Drowsiness
If you get tired in the afternoon, or early evening don’t give in! As tempting as it might feel, try to do some exercise or stimulate yourself by doing household chores, or talking with friends. Sleeping too early, in most cases, results in sleeping poorly at night.
Tip 2: Control Your Exposure To Light
I’ve already covered circadian rhythms and how they’re related to light. Now, we’re going to go a little deeper into this area. Your sleep cycle is controlled by melatonin. More melatonin is released by your brain at night, this is what makes you feel sleepy. In response to sunlight, less melatonin is released making you feel more alert.
During the day, you want to get as much exposure to sunlight as possible. Go for early morning walks or jogs. Spend your lunchtime outside of the canteen. Ensure you workspaces are brightly lit with lots of natural light coming through. In the winter months, why not invest in a SAD light.
During the evening, you want to do the opposite. Try to avoid exposing yourself to too much light. The bluescreens on phones or computers are the worst culprits. Not only that TV can keep you stimulated. Try to avoid these things whilst ensuring your room is suitably dark.
As a bonus tip, if you need to get up in the night, avoid turning on the big lamps. Instead opt for a small torch or flashlight.
Tip 3: Exercise During The Day
Yes, exercise is a key factor in ensuring you get a good night’s sleep. In ancient times, you would of spent most of your time on your feet. In the modern age, you spend most of it behind a desk. Pent up energy causes restlessness. Try going for regular evening jogs or long walks to help you unwind.
Just be aware that exercising speeds up your metabolism as well as releasing hormones like cortisol which keep you alert. Going for a long-run then trying to sleep as soon as your back through the door is going to hinder you more than it helps. Leave a good two hours before sleeping hours for exercise.
Tip 4: Be Smart With Your Diet
There’s some obvious aspects here as well as some less obvious ones. Clearly, drinking a coffee at 10pm is going to interfere with your sleep, that’s why nobody does it. The same applies to high sugar drinks like soda or squash. Try to keep it calm with herbal teas or water when you’re ready to sleep.
The lesser known causes are about what you eat. Eating meals that are heavy in carbohydrates, like potatoes, releases a lot of energy. Avoid eating late at night as well to ensure your digestive system doesn’t keep you up. If you need a late-night snack opt for fruit or toast.
Tip 5: Wind Down And Clear Your Head
This one is easier said than done. Of course, everyone worries at night. But when you’re worries manifest as anxiety there can be serious problems with sleep. Not only that, being kept up decreases your ability to deal with situations in your waking hours. All in all, ensuring peace of mind is essential to good sleep.
So how can you avoid nagging thoughts? Well, if your anxiety reaches chronic levels, then you’ll want to consult an expert. Seek out counselling first to help your organise and order your issues. Severe anxiety is a serious issue that is commonly linked with insomnia.
If your mildly alert during the night and can’t seem to turn your brain off, a good idea is to take your mind off. Some people find success sleeping with the radio on. Reading a book can also be a way of taking your mind off your day-life when you need to sleep.
Another top tip is to try and sleep an hour later than usual to make sure you’re really tired by the time you go to bed- just make sure you get up at the same time.
Tricks To Get Up In The Morning: Let’s face it, sometimes you have to trick yourself into getting up. Importantly, there’s no shame in that. So long as you manage to get up, then the means you took to get there, no matter how ridiculous, will be worth it.
The most obvious one is, of course, sleeping earlier. Not even superman can wake up at 6 am if he goes to bed at 5 am. Sleeping earlier is the only sensible route to getting up early, if that’s not possible for you, here’s some other tips.
Moving Your Alarm Across The Room: Hitting the snooze button can easily become second nature, so easy that you’ll end up doing it in your sleep. One way to avoid this is by moving your alarm away from your bed. That way you’ll have to get up to turn it off, by which time, the battle is already one.
Oddly enough, a start-up has cottoned onto this and invented an alarm clock that actively evades you. If you’re a serial sleeper, then you may have to take the plunge with this little gadget.
Technology: Sleeping issues affects 70% of Americans at some point in their lives. As such, there’s a huge market for sleeping technology out now. Among the top products are sunlight alarm clocks. The principal is that the alarm clock will steadily brighten, mirroring the rise of the sun.
Premium versions of the technology feature UVB lights which are the same as sunlight. These might be expensive, but they do offer a relaxing morning.
Light Control: Always remember that your body wants to sleep in line with sunrise and sunset. Unfortunately, modern schedules mean that’s just not possible for most people. In the winter, you’ll have to get up in the dark, in the summer you’ll get up 3 to 4 hours after sunrise.
Controlling the amount of light in your bedroom will help you sleep better. Keeping the blinds down during winter or using, semi translucent blinds which block the light at night but let it in at morning can really help to regularize your sleep.
So that just about wraps it up from us. As always, if you have your own quirky methods for sleeping then get in touch through the comments, we’d love to hear from you. Sleep well.