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How much sleep do I need?

When people struggle with under-sleeping, there can almost be an obsession with ‘how much’ sleep they’re getting or not getting. Overnight, there can be a fair bit of clock-watching going on, and if you’re anything like I was, there are some anxiety-producing maths calculations in the wee hours.

The magical amount of sleep that most people aspire to is eight hours a night. This figure has been well embedded in our psyches as the perfect amount of sleep for every human being. But let’s face it, it’s only an average. We are all individuals, and the amount we need varies.

Sleep science makes it clear there are healthy ranges of sleep duration we can work within, and there’s a bit of wiggle room beyond that in some cases. Our body’s sleep duration needs change over our lifetime, so it’s good to do a refresher on how much sleep is recommended or may be appropriate for us at our current age, to truly take care of ourselves. So, time to find out how much sleep you need for your age.

Are you wanting more sleep than you need?

To help get sleep duration ‘expectations’ lined up with the current sleep science, I like to refer to the National Sleep Foundation’s handy guide.

For healthy sleep, the NSF recommends adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night, and for some six hours per night may be okay. For older people (65+), as few as five hours per night can be enough. While the ranges do include that magical eight hours, it’s nice to know a sleep duration at the lower end of the spectrum can still be healthy.

If you’re visiting our site, chances are your sleep durations aren’t yet within these ranges. Those numbers may even seem quite lofty and far away at this stage. That’s okay, you’re here actively learning about sleep and motivated to find your way towards better sleep. I find it reassuring to know the guidelines are a little different for people experiencing insomnia-related sleep problems. Dr Cunnington from Sleep Hub Australia outlines that the risks associated with not getting sufficient sleep only pose a risk if they are averaging less than five hours a night. It’s okay for those with insomnia-related sleep difficulties to be thinking about five hours as a starting point.

Start by lowering your expectations (for now)

On your sleep improvement journey, lowering expectations about how much sleep is needed can be a helpful step. If sleep expectations are high compared to what’s currently happening with your sleep, it can set sleep up as a performance. Based on a sketchy track record, you may not feel confident you can achieve it. This creates pressure - a need to ‘try’ to sleep. Even though it’s not our intention, any effort to sleep creates stress in your body, making sleep more elusive. (Even when you are ‘trying’ to relax!)

To support yourself in sleep improvement, start from where you are. Be realistic about how much sleep you’re currently getting and build from there, little by little. Lower your sleep duration goals, so they’re more likely to be attained. Improving your sleep takes time, and it’s essential to be kind to yourself as you go.

If you would like to learn more about sleep, or feel ready to take charge of sleep improvement, take a look at my book and the Sleep Easy programme.

Take care of yourself and your sleep,



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