Find out whether you're getting the right amount of Zs at the right time so you can stay well and well-rested.
There's nothing like a good night's sleep to make you feel ready to seize the day, no coffee necessary. For most of us, that means logging at least seven hours a night, though others need more, says Dr Cheri D. Mah, MD, a physician scientist at the UCSF Human Performance Center and a Nike Performance Council member who specialises in sleep and performance in elite athletes.
The not-so-surprising reality is that most of us aren't getting enough sleep most nights, says Mah. But it's not just the total time you clock up that affects your mood, health and fitness. It's also when you get those seven-or-more hours, she adds. To see whether your sleep routine needs a reboot, first determine whether you experience any of these signs:
"The more you go towards the middle of the day, the less effective that light is at keeping you in sync with your watch".
Mariana G. Figueiro
Feel seen? The next step to sleep success is trying Mah's simple experiment to help you determine how much sleep you really need. On your next break or holiday (or whenever you can make your morning schedule flexible), set a consistent bedtime each night, turn off your alarm and see what time you naturally wake up. After several days in a row of this, you'll get a sense of how many hours you need to feel well-rested, explains Mah. (If you're suddenly sleeping more than usual—say, 10 hours a night—and especially if you're experiencing any other symptoms, chat with your doc to figure out what could be behind it, such as depression or another underlying medical condition, says Mah).
Once you know how much sleep you work best with, do everything you can to stick to a regular bedtime and wake time every day, says Mah. "Yo-yo sleeping", where you regularly get significantly more shut-eye on some days than others, can mess with your body clock and invite its own set of health issues, including high blood pressure and a feeling of constant jet lag. So unless you're hitting snooze on Saturday because you're making up for lost sleep, aka "sleep debt", after an exhausting week, or because you're feeling under the weather, sleeping in usually isn't what your body really needs.
One way to know for sure? If extra time under the covers isn't giving you more energy. "You don't want to go to bed late and wake up later just because you can, as that can throw off your clock", says Mah. Earlier bedtimes beat later wake times for the best-synced clock, but do what works for your schedule, she says.
Remember, sleep is supposed to help you recover, restore and reset for the day ahead. If it's not doing its job, maybe it's time to put it on a performance plan.
Words: Ronnie Howard
Illustration: Matt Williams