Health & Wellbeing

How much sleep is healthy?

There’s truth in the saying ‘you’ll feel better in the morning’. When we sleep, our bodies enter an essential mode of restoration. Here’s our guide to sleep – how much is enough, what happens during healthy sleep, and what you can do to get the best sleep ever.

How much is enough?

Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours’ sleep each night. If you’re not getting that much, according to the Sleep Health Foundation, you’re amongst the 33-45% of Australians that have poor sleep patterns.

While scientists still haven’t established why we need sleep, we do know that it’s important for letting our bodies rest, recover and rebuild from the stress we put on it every day.

We sleep in cycles, of around 90 minutes each, with various stages of wakefulness and deep sleep. The rapid eye movement (REM) stage is when our brains are most active. In fact, there’s evidence from myDr that, during REM, our brains are actively processing as much in this stage as when we’re awake. It’s thought to be the time when we dream and when memories are created. Here’s what else our bodies do when we’re asleep:

  • human growth hormone is produced – helping our body repair
  • The government organisation, healthdirect, explains that cortisol production is inhibited as it’s not needed as much when we’re asleep
  • the digestive system slows down and uses energy for restorative functions
  • kidneys produce less urine.

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Age makes a difference

Sleeping like a baby is great . . . for babies! According to the Australian Centre for Education in Sleep, everyone needs different amounts of sleep depending on their age. In a 24-hour period, newborn babies sleep intermittently for 14-18 hours, while toddlers sleep for 12-14 hours. High school students need 9 hours of unbroken sleep, adults can have 7-9 hours of sleep – but convincing either high-schoolers or adults to get enough sleep can be a challenge given the distractions and lists of things we all try to do each day.

What happens if we don’t get the right amount?

Too much sleep

Sleep is considered a self-limiting behaviour – you’ll only sleep as much as you need to. However, oversleeping can be an indication of other health issues i.e. people who suffer from depression usually sleep for longer.

A study from the University of Sydney (2015, Ding et al.) has found that people who sleep more than nine hours a night, sit more than seven hours a day and exercise less than 150 minutes each week are four times more likely to die compared to people with healthier habits. So, while consistently oversleeping may not kill you, it’s not part of a healthy lifestyle.

Not enough sleep

Sleep deprivation can be fatal — The Sleep Health Foundation Report, released by Deloitte Access Economics found that in 2016-17 it was linked to over 3,000 deaths. Each year around 400 people die when drivers fall asleep behind the wheel or during work. The other 2,600 deaths were from complications linked to sleep disorders.

Four in ten Australian adults don’t get enough sleep, putting themselves and those around them at risk. A recent study from the University of Adelaide revealed that almost a fifth of Australians have skipped work from a lack of sleep, and the same amount also admitted to falling asleep at work.

Chronically under-sleeping is a real problem, but if you’ve only missed a few nights of good sleep, according to the Journal of Sleep Research, you can still catch up on your ‘sleep debt’. Good sleep for 9 hours, two nights in a row, will help you recover from short-term sleep deprivation.

How do I know if I’ve had enough healthy sleep?

It’s not just the number of hours you spend in bed, but the quality of sleep that counts. You’ll know you’ve had enough healthy sleep if you can:

  • wake without an alarm clock, or wake before the alarm goes off
  • wake up feeling refreshed rather than groggy, and
  • feel ready to focus on work or other activities, without needing lots of caffeine or sugar.

How to get better sleep?

You can improve your sleep through developing healthy habits like:

  • Reducing the amount of sugar or spicy foods you eat a few hours before bedtime
  • Set up your bedroom to be dark, cool and quiet
  • Save your bedroom for sleeping
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine for your family – special time with children, quietly reading or practicing calming breathing exercises.

Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for living a healthy life and making the most of every day you have with your friends, family and loved ones.

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