ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Many of us aren’t getting enough sleep despite more and more studies showing just how important it is for overall health. In the short term, it boosts our immunity, prevents weight gain, and improves memory. And in the long-term, it can strengthen the heart and even prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
So how much sleep should we really be getting? You may have heard eight hours, but it actually varies from person to person. “We want at least 6.5 hours consistently so that we can take advantage of all of those different sleep cycles,” said Kelly O’Brien, a sleep coach at Proper.
She says that if you consistently need more than nine hours, there could be other issues at play. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, set aside an hour before bed to wind down. “To be engaging in things that are as non-activating as possible,” O’Brien said.
But that can be different for everyone. “If reading a really good book is activating and you can’t put the book down then maybe that’s not the best thing. Someone else might find 15 minutes with a good book, that’s just what I need to feel relaxed,” said O’Brien.
When it comes to pre-bed relaxation, TV isn’t out of the question. “Some folks find that watching interesting but not activating television outside the bedroom before bed can help just to give the brain some focus that doesn’t allow it to fall down the rabbit hole of planning for tomorrow or worrying about yesterday,” she said.
Though all screens emit a blue light that can affect sleep, O’Brien says that small screens—cell phones—are the worst.“The brain almost has this trigger effect like, ‘Oh, that little thing is in my hand, I must be in an activated state,’ even though we might just be looking at puppies on Instagram.”
Your sleep partner also needs to be taken into account. O’Brien says it’s best to match up sleep schedules. if that’s not possible, consider dividing and conquering. “We’ve seen great success with folks that say, ‘you know what, I’m heading down the hall and I’m going to get a good night’s sleep and you get a good night’s sleep’ and the relationship can be bolstered by that.”
Sleep trackers may help you determine changes you can make to get better sleep, but they can also have a negative effect. “If it suddenly becomes all about the data needing to look a certain way then we know that that can cause activation around our sleep, then we have another potential impact on what could be causing that racing mind or that concern around sleep,” she said.
O’Brien says the best indicator of your quality of sleep is how you feel in the morning.
There are many natural sleep aids on the market, including melatonin. But it’s not a generic sleeping pill and can actually have the opposite effect on some people. Prescription sleeping pills can have serious side effects, and you can become dependent on them, so talk to your healthcare provider about what’s right for you.
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