Health Care, Love, Advice, Wellness

How much sleep is actually enough sleep?

You have to hit more Z's than you realize.

Many people, including myself, find it difficult to get the fully recommended eight hours of sleep.

As a result, I always try to squeeze in enough time to get at least five hours of sleep every night (sometimes even less). I used to think this was enough. In high school, I slept an average of three to four hours a night, and crashed for a two-hour nap after school. I knew this was an extremely unhealthy habit, but I was used to it. I pulled through, and I just had so much work to do.

In college, I’m juggling more things; college coursework is obviously more rigorous than high school, I’m working two part-time jobs, a freelance writing job, and a fellowship (the very one I’m writing for right now!). I’m also part of maybe three clubs on campus.

Don’t get me wrong; I love everything I’m doing, and I wouldn’t have done any of these extracurricular activities on top of my studies if I didn’t want to. But I admit, it’s a lot.

And it’s tough trying to get everything done and get eight hours of sleep when it feels like even 24 hours a day is not enough. If I wanted the recommended hours of sleep, I’d have to go to bed at midnight sharp and get up at eight in the morning, or sleep from 11 until seven in the morning. How am I supposed to finish all my work, have time to eat, and have even a minimal social life?

So, I go to bed at around two or three a.m. and drag myself out of bed by seven or eight a.m.

I eventually learned the hard way that there is a reason why professionals recommend a certain number of hours of sleep. This isn’t high school anymore. I can no longer get away with a funky sleep schedule, and make up for it by sleeping for 12 hours over the weekend. I thought five hours was a decent amount of sleep, and so did my body… for about two weeks.

And then I crashed. Really hard.

I couldn’t get out of bed, much less keep my eyes open. My brain screamed to hurry up and get ready for class, but my mind was fuzzy, my body felt like jelly, and I swear my chest had suddenly turned into lead — it was so heavy — I was pinned down on my back, into the mattress. I ended up sleeping the entire day and it turned out that sleep deprivation and jet lag was not a great combination.

I promised myself never again, I knew that I needed to stop making excuses and just sleep more.

The realization dawned that the most important thing about college is not your grades, nor your friends, but your mental and physical health. The other two important things will follow suit if you just keep yourself healthy and thriving. And the number one thing to do to have a healthy mind and body is to sleep.

If you’re sleeping five hours or less, it doesn’t feel like a couple more will make a difference. But trust me, it will. More sleep will lead you to feel more refreshed, energized, alert, and creative.

The next question I had to ask myself was, how would I manage my time? One way that I manage my time is that I set very short and immediate goals. I keep a progress report where I keep track of what I do at what time, for how many minutes, and whether or not I was able to finish that particular assignment. 

Even right now, as I’m writing these words, I’m keeping track of how many hours and minutes I’m spending writing this one article. Once I complete all of my work, I reward myself with a break. I scroll through Instagram for 10 minutes, take a nap for 15 minutes, or play a game of League of Legends.

A longer break means it’s a bigger reward, so it’s up to you to decide what you deserve.

But what if you can’t fall asleep? Maybe some of these websites will help you nod right off. Follow these step by step instructions to fight your insomnia. Try these natural ways to fall asleep, with tips including how to write out a sleep tracker. Whatever method you decide to use doesn’t matter, as long as you’re getting the z’s you need.

Stay healthy, my friends, and sleep tight!