How much sleep do we need?
Most adults need between seven and eight hours’ sleep each night, although we’re all different. Some people find they can manage on just three hours. The amount we need reduces as we age. The elderly, therefore, need less sleep and often find their night’s sleep is broken, especially if they’ve taken a nap during the day.
There are many remedies for sleep problems, some more effective than others. The most important thing is to have a good bedtime routine, as this helps to prepare the mind for sleep.
Other things you might like to try include:
- Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, whether you’re tired or not.
- Making sure the environment is right for sleep. Your bedroom should be the right temperature and not too noisy. Don’t have a television in the bedroom.
- Getting some moderate exercise each day, such as swimming or walking.
- Avoiding stimulants such as caffeine in tea and coffee before going to bed. Try a milky drink instead.
- Avoiding too much alcohol. This induces unnatural sleep, so although you may fall asleep easily, you’ll almost certainly wake up during the night.
- Not eating or drinking a lot late at night – keep supper to the first half of the evening. (An American study looked at what sort of foods people used to get them off to sleep. They found that foods said to increase levels of the brain chemical serotonin might help. The most effective was banana muffins.)
If you can’t sleep, don’t lie there worrying about it. Get up again and do something relaxing such as reading or watching television.
Some complementary therapies and medicines may also help with insomnia.
If your sleep problem persists, see your doctor. He or she may be able to refer you to a local sleep disorder clinic, which will investigate your problem in depth, although there may be a long waiting list.
This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Trisha Macnair in August 2005.
First published in November 1997.
- Trying relaxation techniques before going to bed, such as yoga, hypnosis or simply listening to music.
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