We all know it. You stayed up too late or you went to bed on time but still can't fall asleep.

The next day you notice what your body has known for a long time: you are suffering from a lack of sleep. Most of us don't take it too seriously. Fatigue is almost expected in our modern world, from the weary commuter clutching his coffee mug to the student staying up all night to finish an assignment. We chase away tiredness with caffeine, sugar and sheer willpower. But by ignoring our beds, we pave the way for many chronic health problems.

Sleep is essential for processing information and rebuilding tissue. It regulates the immune system and metabolism, including body weight. In fact, lack of sleep from just one night can increase your emotional responses to negative feelings by 60%. The good news is that how long you sleep is closely related to your age.

Finding your perfect sleep pattern takes a little practice

So how much sleep do you need?

  • Newborns: 14-17 hours
  • Infants: 12 - 15 hours
  • Infants: 11 - 14 hours
  • Pre-school children: 10 - 13 hours
  • School children: 9 - 11 hours
  • Teenagers: 8 - 10 hours
  • Young adults: 7 - 9 hours
  • Adults: 7-8 hours

As you can see, there are still variations within each age group. This is mainly due to genetics. Some people are genetically predisposed to get by on as little as six hours of sleep, and their bodies automatically shorten the amount of time they sleep. At the other end of the spectrum are the genes that make it difficult for a person to sink into deep sleep, meaning they take longer to reach that state. Unfortunately, as of yet, there are no commercial tests that can help you find out which gene you have.

With a little practice, you can find your perfect sleep cycle. 

  1. Check your sleep duration compared to your age group . This way you get a frame of reference.
  1. Watch your internal clock . Everyone has a slightly different biorhythm and it only makes sense that you live in tune with your individual rhythm. Simply note your different energy levels over the next few days. When do you naturally feel awake, tired, satisfied, or exhausted? What time do you usually wake up at the weekend if you don't have to set an alarm? Before electric light was invented, almost everyone was aware of their circadian rhythm, and all you have to do is become aware of that internal clock again.
  1. Turn off all screens as soon as you feel tired at night--TV, cell phone, computer, everything. Screens are the biggest distraction for your internal clock. Instead, read a book, play with your pet, listen to music, or pursue a relaxing hobby. And when you're ready, go to bed.
  1. Try to get a sleep time that is appropriate for your age. For example, adults need 7-8 hours of sleep. So go to bed 7.5 hours earlier than your alarm clock. If you simply fall asleep and wake up a few minutes before your alarm clock, you have found the optimal sleep duration.
  1. If you're having trouble, adjust your bedtime, in 15- minute intervals, to find a good sleep duration. Give your new sleeping pattern 3-5 days to take effect.
  1. Your body loves regularity . If you can manage it, keep the same rhythm on the weekends as you do during the week. And vice versa: if you're planning a midnight movie marathon, allow yourself enough time to sleep in the next morning.

Finding your perfect sleep pattern takes a little practice

Getting a good nights sleep is one of the smartest lifestyle investments you can make . If you're planning other changes in your life--from losing weight to changing careers--then sleeping on it will surely help you achieve those goals.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24499013
[2] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352721815000157