“On average the majority people are going to function their best between seven to eight hours of sleep,” explains Mary Klink, MD, sleep medicine specialist with Wisconsin Sleep. “There are outliers – people who tend to function adequately with six hours of sleep and people who tend to function best with closer to nine hours of sleep.”
The right amount of sleep is best determined by how you feel the next day. Ideally, you should feel refreshed and alert, not sleepy or fatigued. If you hit your snooze button or can’t function until you’ve had your coffee, it means you’re not getting enough.
“Many people try to get away with just enough sleep to let them function the next day,” comments Klink. “I often ask patients how much they sleep on a work night and how much they sleep on a non-work night. If there’s more than an hour difference, that clues me in they are not sleeping an optimal amount during the work week.”
A consistent lack of sleep – some research suggests less than six hours a night – has been consistently shown to lead to increased problems with concentration, alertness, and memory issues. But, it can be challenging when someone experiences trouble falling or staying asleep.
Good habits and an environment conducive to sleep can go a long way to ensuring a quality night’s rest. A dark bedroom that is quiet and on the cool side is optimal for sleeping. Other recommendations include:
- No computers or televisions in the room.
- Avoid caffeine after 2 or 3 in the afternoon. Even if you feel like the effects wear off by bedtime, the reality is that caffeine can still affect the quality of your sleep.
- Exercise, but not too close to bedtime because it can have a stimulating effect.
- Avoid alcohol. “It can feel like it has a sedative effect,” says Klink. “But after two to four hours, it actually wakes you up.”
- Maintain consistent sleep and wake times, even through the weekend.
For those in shift work, maintaining consistent sleep patterns can be challenging. A few recommendations for shift workers include keeping the lights bright in the work space, wear dark sunglasses that wrap around the face to help dim the sunlight when leaving at the end of a shift, keep lights in the house low, curtains drawn and don’t spend time in front of a computer screen.
“Essentially, you’re trying to trick your body,” explains Klink. “It’s light at work, dark when you leave so your body can try to shift into a regular night mode to enhance daytime sleeping.”
When you do get an insufficient night of sleep, maybe it’s a sick child or spouse, friends were visiting, or even a good book that you didn’t want to put down, a nap can be a way to supplement. And, just like with sleep, the length of time for a nap can vary by individual.
“Some people are really refreshed by short ‘power nap’ and other people don’t benefit unless they get an hour or more for a nap,” Klink comments.
If you’re maintaining positive sleep habits and getting a reasonable number of hours of sleep, but still having problems with sleepiness in the day time or staying awake at work, it may be time to see your physician.
“When someone is getting seven to eight hours of sleep a night and is still having problems with prominent fatigue or sleepiness in the day time, there may be an underlying disorder,” explains Klink. “Sleep apnea is the most common, although periodic limb movement disorder, which is related to restless legs, can also be an underlying cause. But, it’s important to talk with your physician to know for sure.”
University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority