Sleep. We spend a third of our lives doing it and yet precious little is known why. Scientists continue to try to unpack the phenomena that unite us all, but we’re not even sure how much we need.

Conventional wisdom says eight hours is the gold standard, but then again, that might be a product of arithmetic: studies show that, on average, we get between seven and nine hours a night. Eight falls right in the middle and is an easy number to pass around.

But from an athlete’s standpoint, high-performing stars often shirk the rule in favour of a great deal more. NBA legend LeBron James aims for ten hours a night, while Floyd Mayweather enjoys an incredible 12 hours and routinely wakes at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The Real Madrid football team get a 1PM siesta during every training session and Michael Phelps is a firm believer in an extra hour of shut-eye.

Sleep is vital to survival. We grow muscle tissues, synthesise proteins and lay the foundation for tissue repair when we sleep. Perhaps more pertinently, our brains benefit too, organizing new memories and gearing up for a new day.

On less than six hours of shut-eye a night, most of us will struggle to concentrate in the morning. A lack of sleep has a cumulative negative effect, day by day. Yet within weeks, our brains trick us into feeling normal again. Scientists posit that people running low on sleep take bigger risks, exhibiting behaviour commonly associated with alcohol consumption. That might explain the excessive risk-taking you find on Wall Street, where sleep is hard to come by.

One thing is clear: if you’re exercising, you need to give your body rest.

Here are some tips to bear in mind:

 

  • Try to go to bed at the same time each night, and wake at the same time every morning. This will boost alertness and aid your internal clock. It’s also useful advice for headache sufferers.
  • Sleep in darkness. Our bodies operate on a natural biological rhythm and we seek an absence of light when it’s time to get rest.
  • If you’re struggling to sleep, up your exercise quotient. A regular gym routine is proven to contribute to good quality sleep.
  • Put your phone away: studies show that phones and computers emit the kind of light that keeps your brain active. If you want uninterrupted sleep, dispense with phones and laptops an hour before bed and choose a book to read instead.

 

In the end, sticking to a regular routine is crucial. Our bodies benefit from routine, and a regular sleep cycle will immediately make you feel better.