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How Do We Really Know How Many Hours Sleep We Need at Night?



We often become anxious if we find ourselves waking up in the middle of the night or during the very early hours of the morning, thinking that we are just not getting sufficient sleep.

And yet, during historical times, people had very different sleeping habits.

They went to sleep when it became dark and they woke up with the light.  But in between they would often wake up, interact with others, before going back to sleep again.

That was considered normal.

Why we worry about how long we sleep 

If we think we are not getting enough sleep and then we worry about this, we can make the problem even worse.

Sleep experts are in agreement that anxiety levels triggered by the pandemic and lockdowns as well as other world problems have led to a marked deterioration in sleep quality since 2020.

On the other hand, Professor Russell Foster (director of Oxford University's Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute) has concluded that some people who believe their sleep has become worse may actually be sleeping better!

This is because they are getting so much extra sleep that they are unwittingly dividing it into two or more segments a day.  Known as polyphasic sleep, this is the same as happened in historical times as mentioned above.  

He says: "This is making them extremely anxious because they are interpreting the fact that they are waking at night as being worse."

Nevertheless, the Professor does agree that a significant number of people are sleeping worse at this time.  He goes on to say: "Many people, particularly as we age, wake up in the middle of the night and think they are never going to get back to sleep.  they start drinking coffee and checking their emails." 

What to do when you wake up in the middle of the night?

1.  Stay relaxed and realize that it is perfectly normal to wake up.  You will then go back to sleep.

2.  Don't get anxious about having to sleep for seven or eight hours because this number varies from person to person.

3.  The healthy sleep range for adults is anything between six hours and ten hours.  One size does not fit all.  Accept and stop worrying.

4.  Worry less and you will wake up at the best time for you, ready to face the day ahead.



How to get yourself ready for bed and a good night's sleep

  • Wind down by doing something that makes you feel relax - it could be a warm bath with candles, a session of yoga or practicing mindfulness.
  • Exercise can be a good way to get rid of stress but not too close to bedtime.
  • If you are part of a couple, don't use bedtime to discuss finances, worries about your children and other concerns.
  • Read a few pages of a favorite book or even spend a few minutes looking at an old photograph album.  These are gentle and relaxing things to do.
  • Apply a few drops of H-Sleep Aid to the back of the neck at bedtime or if you wake up during the night to help you relax and get back into sleep mode once more.



What is insomnia? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/inso#. (Accessed, Feb 11, 2021).

Insomnia fact sheet. WomensHealth.gov. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/insomnia.html. (Accessed, Feb 11, 2021).

Sleep-wake disorders. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. (Accessed, Feb 11, 2021).

Sleep disorders: The connection between sleep and mental health. National Alliance on Mental Health. http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Related-Conditions/Sleep-Disorders. (Accessed, Feb 11, 2021).