My Life Changed When I Committed to 8 Hours of Sleep
What Science Tells Us About Sleep
Before I jump into my story, I thought I'd do a quick review of what science tells us about sleep. I think everybody has heard that sleep is important to health and even longevity, but how does quality sleep lead to quality life specifically?
Here is a list of just a few benefits of consistently getting a good night's sleep:
- Quality sleep improves judgment, focus, and mood.
- Not only does a good night's sleep help us to learn new things the following day, a good night's sleep improves the minds ability to remember what was learned the previous day.
- Consistent high-quality sleep improves immune function, preventing illness.
- Sleep decreases the risk of chronic disease (e.g., heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure), hence extending life expectancy.
- Proper sleep habits increase control of appetite, metabolism, and glucose processing, which decreases the risk of obesity.
Do the benefits of getting enough sleep warrant the effort that it takes to actually get eight hours in?
How Much Sleep Is Enough?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, there isn't one straight across the board answer that's right for everyone when it comes to how much sleep you need.
There are several variables that come into play such as age, lifestyle, and health concerns. That being said, the average recommendation for adults ranges from 7-9 hours with the range shrinking to 7-8 hours for adults over age 65.
One good way to judge how much sleep is the right amount for you is to pay attention to how you feel with different amounts of sleep within the recommended range. Don't just pay attention to how you feel when you first wake up. Pay attention to your mood, energy level, and alertness throughout the day.
Also, it's important to note that while having the right amount of sleep is good for health, getting too much sleep can have similar downsides to not getting enough.
Sleep Recommendations by Age
Newborns (0-3 months)
Infants (4-11 months)
Toddlers (1-2 years)
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
School Aged Children (6-13 years)
Teenagers (14-17 years)
Young adults (18-25 years)
Adults (26-64 years)
Older Adults (65+ years)
Life Without Chronic Fatigue
Up until recently, I couldn't have told you what it feels like to consistently get a good night's sleep. From high school on (maybe even sooner, but high school is when I remember the exhaustion really setting in), it seems like I've almost always been tired.
Although most people would describe me as positive, happy, and energetic, few people realized that I was also a person who depended on naps on a regular basis. I was good at hiding my exhaustion.
I remember a coworker at the buffet I worked at as a teenager who pointed out that every time he asked how I was doing, I said I was good, but tired. He asked me why I was always tired, like he was concerned or something, and I just thought it was no big deal. That's just how you feel when you go to school, have a job, and maintain a social life.
During my college years, I would sneak in naps whenever possible, and I mean anytime and anywhere that I possibly could. I remember lying down in hallways using my backpack as a pillow in between classes. One time, I actually used a rock as a pillow when I was outside and didn't have anything else to use.
When I got a full-time teaching job, naps became an absolute necessity. I finally gave in and realized that I couldn't function if I didn't lie down for at least ten minutes after school, but this ten minutes often stretched out to an hour or two.
I can't even count the number of times that I've been afraid of falling asleep while driving, not just in the middle of the night, but in the middle of the day. I'm all too familiar with the feeling of literally being dizzy with exhaustion, and it seems like the older I got, the worse I'd gotten at acting like an energetic person despite my exhaustion.
Resolutions and Recommendations
I specifically remember one day as a newly 24-year-old, when after staying up most the night hanging out with a friend, I was dealing with the consequences in an unpleasant way.
I caught an early morning flight to Utah to meet my boyfriend who I hadn't seen in several weeks. I wanted to be excited to see him, and normally I would have been. That day I wasn't capable of mustering anything even close to excitement.
I had a pounding headache and could barely function. I felt ill, and struggled to reply to simple questions, let alone have a normal conversation. I've never had alcohol in my life, but I imagine that what I was experiencing from sleep deprivation was similar to what many people experience when they've had too much to drink.
My boyfriend suggested to me that I make a new year's resolution to get eight hours of sleep a night. I knew it was a good idea and forced a pleasant reply, although I wasn't really in the best mood to be told what to do.
Being a college student at the time, getting eight hours of sleep seemed far from possible. I thought I'd give it a shot, but late nights spent doing homework and hanging out with roommates made me set that goal aside.
Accidentally Getting Enough Sleep
As a teacher with summers off, I have the benefit of setting my own schedule for three months out of the year. This past summer, I got into the habit of getting the right amount of sleep. It wasn't planned, it just kind of happened on accident, and I noticed some great improvements in my quality of life.
Along with sleeping more than usual, I was also out adventuring a lot more than I can during the school year. I went hiking on a regular basis, not just little walks around the block either. I was going on strenuous hikes, and I felt like I had more energy than I'd normally have after a day that required a lot less energy.
I quit taking naps, which is pretty amazing for me. Like I mentioned before, naps had previously been a regular part of my routine. In the past, I felt like I couldn't function without naps and barely functioned with them. Now I was pretty consistently feeling energized throughout the whole day.
In August, with the school year rapidly approaching, I dreaded the thought of being chronically fatigued much more than I dreaded the idea of getting back to work, and I decided that something had to change.
Committing Myself to a Consistent Eight Hours
Ten years after the initial suggestion that I commit myself to getting eight hours of sleep, I finally became motivated to take that suggestion a reality. I knew it was going to take self control, and I'd have to sacrifice some of my evening activities, but after reaping the benefits of a good night's sleep all summer, I knew I'd be giving up something good for something better. I knew my plan would require some reverse engineering. The time I had to wake up in the morning was pretty concrete, so what I needed to figure out is how many hours before that time I needed to go to bed.
Due to the wonderful miracle that is the Fitbit, I had discovered that for me, getting eight hours of sleep requires being in bed for much more than eight hours. It's normal for me to be awake for at least an hour from the time I settle in for bed to the time that I get up to start my day. Some of this time is the time it takes for me to fall asleep, but generally I wake up a few times during the night (whether I consciously realize it or not), and I needed to take this all into account as I planned a bedtime.
I decided that if I wanted to guarantee myself an average of eight hours of sleep a night, I had to plan on going to bed at least nine hours before I wanted to wake up in the morning. That means that I go to bed at 9:00. Most people think that's pretty early. In fact, sometimes I go to bed before my husband and I are done watching a movie. I've also missed out on several girls' nights out, but when it comes down to it, the sacrifice has been completely worth it.
A Greater Quality of Life
I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that I am consistently feeling better than I've ever felt before. I've been a health enthusiast for quite some time, and in the past, I would have given testimonials on the benefits of nutrition, regular exercise, and even meditation, but I didn't realize that I had a key ingredient missing from my recipe for health and quality of life.
My mood has improved, my focus has improved, and instead of coming home from work needing a nap, I come home excited to try to get in at least a couple miles of hiking in before dinner.
I've made it through the first half of the school year only having one cold. Many people would consider that in itself a small miracle.
It's common sense that getting plenty of sleep strengthens the immune system so that we can get better when we're sick. What if you got enough sleep on a regular basis to keep your immune system strong so that you didn't get sick in the first place?
I honestly don't think I have the words to describe how much better I feel on a regular basis than I felt in the past. Even now, during the short dark days of winter when energy levels have been a struggle for me in the past, I'm feeling great.
I wish I could share this gift with everyone, but when it comes down to it, it's something you have to do for yourself. It's going to take planning and discipline, but the results will be absolutely worth it! Give yourself the gift of health and improved quality of life!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.