Improving sleep – Sleep duration

In previous article we wrote about 4 components of sleep quality – sleep duration, consistency, timing and architecture.

Let’s start with the one that is probably the easiest to control and play with – the duration of your sleep.

Why it’s important

In the last decades short sleep became a status symbol. As if people were saying “I have so many important things to do that I don’t have time to sleep”. Luckily this is quickly becoming unfashionable – because in reality it is quite the opposite.

The less you sleep, the less efficient and creative you are, the more it takes you to accomplish your tasks. The quality typically suffers too.

Organizations started realizing this, especially thanks to people like Arianna Huffington, Matthew Walker, Michael Breus who openly talk about it. There are now companies that give bonuses for good sleep. For example US health insurance company Aetna is giving hundreds of dollars to their employees as a reward for at least 7 hours of sleep. They know that better sleep means more productive, satisfied and healthier employees.

So how long should you sleep?

This differs from person to person, but for most of adults the recommended total sleep duration is 7-9 hours. Most of us regularly sleep much less than that and think it’s normal. But most probably we could feel and think much better if we’d just slept 30 minutes more. Until we know how we feel when we reach our full energy levels we don’t know our ideal sleep duration.

There are situations when the sleep needs to be even longer – for example when we are experiencing illness, after strenuous exercise, or even during winter months. So if you’re fighting a cold or training for Iron man, sleeping even longer will give your body chance to recover.

How to improve – sleep duration

This is relatively simple. Just make sleep your priority for at least 3 weeks to find out what is the optimal duration for you.

This is worth trying even if you think you sleep enough now – just think about it in terms of downside vs. upside:

  • Downside – you will spend couple of additional hours in bed
  • Upside – you will feel and perform significantly better.

Try this experiment – for next 3 weeks plan your daily schedule in a way that will allow you to spend at least 9 hours in bed (or as much as your life circumstances allow). Track how much time you spend in bed vs. how much you actually sleep, and how you feel in the morning.

Ideally at the end of the experiment you would not need an alarm clock – your body will naturally wake up when it is completely refreshed. That is your baseline for ideal sleep duration. Then you can decide whether the additional time are worth the benefits.

Don’t worry if it doesn’t work well the first week and you’ll spend some of the alloted time awake in bed – your body needs time to adjust.

If you still experience problems with falling asleep or staying asleep even after the first week (many people do!), we’ll be covering those in next article.

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