Many years ago, I wrote an article about training with a newborn. At the time, my son was 3 and my daughter was only 8 months old. It was rare that I ever slept more than a few hours at a time. Now that my kids are older (9 and 7) and my life has changed, it’s a good time to readdress the topic. Not only do I continue to receive questions about sleep, but I’ve also seen my name falsely referenced as someone who hardly sleeps. That isn’t entirely true. I might not sleep as much as my dog (pictured above), but I’m not opposed to sleep either. Therefore, I’ll use this entry to examine just how much sleep you need to function both physically and mentally.
For starters, I don’t claim to be an authority on sleep or sleep deprivation. I can however share my experiences as an athlete, business owner, and parent. I’m a real person who lives an active life. I have obligations and responsibilities other than myself. I’m not writing this entry after napping all day in a college dorm. Instead, I’m writing as a regular person who lives a busy life and doesn’t always sleep as much as he probably should. With that said, I’ve experimented with just about every possible sleep arrangement so I have a few things to say on the subject.
The Real World
Earlier this week, I saw a so-called fitness celebrity recommend that everyone get at least 10 hours of sleep a night. I literally laughed out loud as I read his comments. I’m not a betting man, but I’d be willing to bet that the person who shared that opinion didn’t have kids and wouldn’t recognize a real day of work if it smacked him in the face.
Speaking for myself, my day typically begins at 5:00 a.m. each morning. For me to get 10 hours of sleep, I’d need to be in bed at 7:00 p.m. which would mean abandoning my children at practice. They are usually still on the baseball or soccer field at that time. I’m guessing the kids (as well as the police) wouldn’t react very well to driving themselves home.
And as for this blog, it would be nonexistent if I had to go to sleep at 7 p.m. each night. My evening hours are typically spent working on this website and catching up with emails. If I couldn’t do it at night, it wouldn’t happen at all. There’s no other time.
What Really Happens
I’ve read countless studies about sleep and most experts recommend that adults receive somewhere between 7 and 9 hours a night. Occasionally, you may find recommendations outside this range, but you’ll rarely see anyone strongly oppose the 7 to 9 hour estimate.
Personally speaking, 9 hours isn’t an option for me. I average closer to 6 hours a night. There are nights when I occasionally get an extra hour or maybe an hour less, but I rarely stray too far from that 6 hour average. And while 6 hours might not seem like a lot, it’s much more than I was getting when my kids were first born. Six hours seems like an eternity when I think back to those sleepless nights.
A Few Suggestions
I’m not sharing my story to suggest that 6 hours of sleep is ideal for everyone, but rather to provide a real world example of a healthy and busy adult. In the past, I’ve seen the 6 hour range linked to obesity and other health problems. I’m living proof that it doesn’t need to be that way. I’m a firm believer that what you do while you are awake is just as important as what happens at night.
I’m hardly ever sick and I wake up energized most mornings. My philosophy in regards to sleep is to get what I need without overdoing it. I’m also a firm believer in quality over quantity. I’d rather get 6 hours of deep sleep rather than tossing and turning for 8 hours.
A few tips that have worked well for me include the following:
- Follow a routine. Regular change isn’t good when it comes to sleep. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time.
- Get outside for fresh air during the day and sleep in complete darkness at night.
- Short naps can help to recharge your batteries, but keep them brief. Long naps tend to disrupt sleep at night.
- Stay away from all electronics at a night. Turn off the television and stay away from all mobile devices.
- I’ll say it again, stay away from your phone! You don’t need to check Facebook or Twitter if you wake up to use the bathroom.
- Get plenty of exercise during the day.
- Eat nutrient rich foods, don’t overeat, and leave the junk alone. I’ve always found that the better I eat, the better I sleep.
- Sleep at a comfortable temperature. It’s difficult to sleep well if you are too hot or cold.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that we all become accustomed to whatever we do on a regular basis. First we make our habits and then our habits make us. For instance, if you are used to sleeping 9 hours but only sleep 6 tonight, you can expect to wake up tired tomorrow. That doesn’t mean 9 hours is necessarily better than 6. It’s just what you’ve become used to over time. In other words, we typically need the amount of sleep that we are used to getting. Any disruption to our normal cycle (less or more) will leave us feeling less than optimal.
When my kids were first born, I was lucky to get 3 or 4 hours of sleep a night. I adapted to the lack of sleep out of necessity. It wasn’t difficult to choose between being broke and being tired. I had a family to provide for so beauty sleep didn’t rank very high on my priority list.
Eventually, I became comfortable dealing with limited sleep. It didn’t happen overnight, but as the months passed, it became part of my daily routine. Now that my kids are older, I’d feel like a zombie if I only had 3 hours of sleep. It’s been years since I had to live that way on a regular basis.
With that in mind, if you ever do need to change your sleep habits, recognize that it won’t be easy at first and the best adjustments are made gradually over time. No new parents wake up feeling chipper every morning after being up all night. It takes time to adapt to change. It is possible though to function well with less than the commonly recommended 8 or 9 hours.
In summary, there are certainly days when I wish I could sleep more. Based on my schedule, it just isn’t an option. Unless someone volunteers to pay my bills, I will continue to sleep less than most people. If you find yourself in a similar position, take comfort in knowing that you aren’t alone. And as long as you take care of your body during the time that you are awake, you’ll still have a chance to live a healthy and vibrant life.
“People who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.” – Leo J. Burke