Remember when some of your mom’s worst words were, “It’s time for bed”? And heaven forbid she suggest a nap in the middle of the day! But for most adults, life is so fast-paced there is barely time to take a breath, let alone a nap. We reflect with a sigh on those days and think, “If only I had time…” Sleep. It is vital to our wellbeing, both mental and physical. How much is enough? How much is too much? Is eight really the magic number?

Actually, recent studies show that there might not be a magic number; the amount of sleep needed varies from person to person. One might be fine on just six hours a night, while you might need nine to feel rested. Scientists are now looking into genetics to further identify how individual sleep needs vary.

To complicate the recommendations, two factors influence your individual need: first, your basal sleep need, which is the amount of sleep your body needs on a regular basis to function optimally. Second, your sleep debt, or the accumulation of sleep lost because of poor sleeping habits, illness, frequent awakenings, etc. Studies suggest that a healthy adult needs around seven to eight hours a night, but the interaction between your basal sleep need and your sleep debt work together to dictate your own personal need. For example, you might fulfill your basal sleep need several nights in a row, but have an unresolved sleep debt that results in you feeling more tired than usual.

This extra tiredness is especially noticeable during circadian dips at bedtime or upon waking in the morning, the times of day when your body is biologically programmed to be sleepier and less alert. Much remains to be learned about the concept of basal sleep; however, evidence clearly indicates that not getting enough sleep will hinder productivity and handicap memory. Sleep debt leads to serious health problems, such as heart disease and diabetes, and increases the risk of fatal accidents. On the other hand, scientists have also discovered that too much sleep (nine hours or more per night) is similarly associated with increased risk of disease and accidents. The good news is, establishing good sleep habits will help “pay off ” any accumulated sleep debt and increase the quality of the sleep you get on a daily basis.

First you must identify your current sleep habits and needs. How often do you get a good night’s sleep? If your answer is “not often,” then changing your sleep habits is necessary. What lifestyle factors, such as work schedule and stress, affect the quantity and quality of your sleep? Note how your body responds to different amounts of sleep, paying careful attention to your mood, energy, and health.

Once you’ve identified a need for change, here are some tips to improve your sleep—
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends

  • Get plenty of vigorous exercise during the day, but not within three hours of bedtime

  • Finish dinner two to three hours before bedtime

  • Avoid caffeine or alcohol—and quit smoking

  • Develop a bedtime routine, such as listening to relaxing music or taking a hot bath, and begin it well before bedtime

  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet, and get a comfortable mattress and pillow

  • Eliminate “sleep stealers” like TVs, computers, or mobile devices from the bedroom; use your bedroom only for sleeping.

Along with getting plenty of sleep on a daily basis, taking a “day off ” each week can have a profound impact on your life. In fact, our Creator knew you would need just such a weekly rest, so He gave you one whole day a week just for that purpose. God Himself “rested on the seventh day” (Genesis 2:2), and the Bible tells us the Sabbath “was made for man” (Mark 2:27). You have been given a fabulous gift in this day of rest; make use of it and see what it can do for you!

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