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How much sleep do I need to perform?

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Did you know that a consistent lack of sleep can make your decision-making similar to that as if you were drunk? Whether you need to perform for exams, your job, be alert for lectures, or nail those meetings, we've got you covered here at Healthwords with tips on how to perform at your best. Read on to find out why you need at least 7 hours to perform your best and how to stay awake and alert when you need to.

What makes a good night of sleep?

When you sleep, your body goes through 5 different sleep stages in approximately 90-minute cycles. It is around 5-6 of these cycles that make up a good night's sleep and allow you to feel refreshed. These stages include deep sleep and rapid eye movement sleep (the stage of sleep when you dream). If you wake up in the middle of a 90-minute cycle, you can feel quite groggy compared to waking up at the end of a cycle.

Seven to nine hours to perform at your best

The first few 90-minute cycles of sleep are when your body begins repairing itself as you spend more time in deep sleep. The latter cycles are mind repairing, when you spend more time in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. The mind repairing cycles help with alertness, memory, emotional regulation, and all-around performance. This is why it's important to get a minimum of 5 cycles of continuous sleep to get in those mind-repairing cycles. This works out to around 7.5 hours as a minimum, with 9 hours being even better.

Tips for getting to sleep and staying asleep

Our top tips for falling asleep easily are focused around sleep hygiene. Have a sleep routine, expose yourself to sunlight during the day, and try to block out all the light when you go to sleep. A sleep routine means aiming to go to bed and wake up at similar times every day, and yes, I'm afraid this even means on the weekend!

You should also avoid looking at your phone or laptop in the hour or two before you sleep, as the blue light from the screens can block your body's natural sleep chemicals. Blocking out all the natural light in your bedroom will help you stay asleep longer.

Other helpful tips can be to keep your bedroom cool and avoid any alcohol. Alcohol can make you fall asleep quicker, but it actually makes the quality of your sleep worse, meaning you may still wake up feeling tired.

How to stay awake

Despite our best efforts, it is sometimes necessary to try to stay awake for longer periods of time than is necessarily healthy. This could be due to working night shifts or that last-minute cram for exams. We would always recommend trying to plan in advance to avoid needing to stay awake more than 15 hours at one time. But, if it is unavoidable, then try some of the following tips.

Natural ways of staying awake include working under bright lights, eating small healthy snacks regularly, and getting up and moving or splashing your face with cold water. Caffeine can also help you stay awake or improve alertness but be careful, as too much caffeine can actually end up hindering your ability to concentrate. Up to 4 cups of coffee, or around 600 mg of caffeine, is the maximum recommended for a positive effect, and it is safest to split this across a number of hours. This can be in the form of coffee, caffeine gum, or caffeine tablets. Watch out for energy drinks, as these quite often contain a lot more caffeine than this.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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