How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Last updated: March 6, 2019

Share

Overview

The amount of sleep which is considered necessary for health and functionality is usually taken from the National Sleep Foundation recommendations. These recommendations do not appear to be simple numbers, like stating that you need 8 hours of sleep and that is that. How much sleep a person needs depends on their age, personal needs, health, and even seasons.

Here you will learn how much sleep different groups need and how to know which group you personally fit into. You should also pay attention to your sleeping habits and the quality of your sleep in order to get the most out of your night’s rest.

What are the recommended amounts of sleep?

According to the age division, here are the amounts of sleep recommended by the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours including naps (although a window of 11-19 may be considered appropriate.)
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours including naps (although a window of 10-18 may be considered appropriate.)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours including naps (although a window of 9-16 may be considered appropriate.
  • Pre-schoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours (although a window of 8-14 may be considered appropriate.)
  • School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours (although a window of 7-12 may be considered appropriate.)
  • Teens (14-17 years): 8-10 hours (although a window of 7-11 may be considered appropriate.)
  • Young adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours (although a window of 6-11 may be considered appropriate.)
  • Adults (25-64 years): 7-9 hours (although a window of 6-10 may be considered appropriate.)
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours (although a window of 5-9 may be considered appropriate.)

Parents should be sensitive to the sleep needs of their children, because it is particularly important to establish healthy sleep habits early in life.

Sleep duration recommendations
Figure 1 Sleep duration recommendations by the National Sleep Foundation

Age group is not the only thing that your sleep depends on, but also every individual has personal needs when it comes to the length of sleep. While someone might function great on only 6 hours of rest, it could be a sleep-depriving torture for other people. On the other hand, if you are a short sleeper but try to conform to the 8-hour sleep norm, you may be getting too much sleep, which is also not good.

To know whether you have just enough sleep, ask yourself these questions:

  • After how many hours of sleep do you feel productive, energetic and happy? After good, quality sleep you should always feel so.
  • Do you have body weight issues? People who sleep less than necessary or too much run the risk of gaining weight.
  • Do you have any sleep problems or sleep disorders?
  • Do you feel sleepy during the day and do you need caffeine to function properly? Many people experience an energy low after lunch and this is normal, however, you shouldn’t be sleepy throughout the whole day.

Why you might need more sleep temporarily – common reasons

Sleeping in winter vs sleeping in summer

You may have noticed that you need to sleep longer in winter than on hot summer days. This may be due to melatonin which regulates our circadian rhythm by making us sleepy. Our bodies produce melatonin in the absence of daylight – therefore, people who live in year-round sunny countries may not experience a significant difference between summer and winter sleep. Contrarily, those who live in northern countries with short days and bad weather usually sleep about an hour or a bit more in winter. They may even develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD), that is, winter depression.

Advertisement

The common cold, flu, and other frequent illnesses and sleep

Sleep helps your body defend from viruses and bacteria by strengthening your immune system. It also restores and repairs cells and tissues in your body. So if you are sick and want to get well soon, apart from consuming lots of tea and other liquids, you should treat yourself to longer sleep time or daily naps.

Previous sleep deprivation

If you were sleep-deprived for a short or a long period of time, your body may need to make up for the lost sleep by urging you to sleep more and longer. This sleep will not be of the same quality as if you had a regular sleep schedule, so do your best to avoid sleep deprivation as much as possible – your body and brain will thank you.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy may increase the need to sleep in women, especially in the early stages. This is because many important processes which require lots of energy occur in their bodies along with hormonal changes. There are pregnancy issues which could make it harder to fall asleep or maintain sleep, causing daytime sleepiness.

Other common causes of the need for more sleep

If you worked excessively for a day or two (either physically or mentally) you might feel the need to sleep more. This is normal because sleep will ensure your muscle growth and cell restoration as well as memory consolidation. Your nerve cells need some rest from overexposure to various stimuli, so your body seeks sleep. Let yourself have some more sleep, but be mindful not to get too much – you don’t want to disrupt your normal body rhythm (circadian rhythm) with oversleeping.

If oversleeping has become your habit, try to make changes step by step. Set the alarm clock a little earlier than you’ve been waking up and get up straight away, skipping the snooze button. Make sure to have some daily exercise and daylight exposure and go to bed before midnight. Keep shortening your time until you start getting up with a feeling of freshness and plenty of energy. This way you will have reached your ideal sleep time.

Less common causes of sleepiness

If you feel an inexplicable urge to sleep and/or fall asleep involuntarily, being excessively tired throughout the day, so much that it impairs the quality of your life, you might be dealing with sleep problems or disorders you are unaware of. Consult your doctor to learn more about the cause of your excessive daytime sleepiness.

How long should you nap?

Your daily naps shouldn’t be longer than 20-30 minutes. This is because during this time you will get your needed rest, but your brain won’t reach deeper stages of sleep which makes it more difficult to wake up.

If you get woken from deep sleep, you will likely feel worse than when you went for a nap. However, if you sleep long enough for your brain to go through the full cycle of light and deep stages and return to light sleep, you will easily wake up, but your sleep propensity – your need to sleep – will be lower. This is because light daily naps don’t ‘mess’ with your night sleep, but deep sleep does.

Your chronotype, your rhythm

We’ve mentioned that your sleep needs are individual for you. Scientists have found that there are several types of people when it comes to their circadian rhythms – some prefer to sleep short and get up before 6 am, whereas others have difficulty being productive before late afternoon. This means that people have different chronotypes.

Chronotypes are traditionally divided into larks and night owls, but Dr. Breus has recently introduced four types – bears (they wake up in the morning and go to bed fairly early), lions (typical early birds with very early waking and sleeping time), wolves (typical night owls – wake up late and sleep late), and dolphins (short sleepers who have problems falling asleep and have light sleep).

Advertisement

Each of these chronotypes stands for a particular sleep-wake routine and preferred daily schedule of meals and activities. If you find out your chronotype, you may get the answers to how your day should be planned out.

However, everyone’s sleep schedule seems to be flexible, so if you are an extreme wolf or a lion, make sure to tune in to the rhythm of society as much as possible to avoid social jet lag and making up for lost sleep at the weekends.

Sleep debt and sleep deprivation

If you think you can get away with cutting on your sleep in order to have a better social life, more working hours, or just to have enough time for everything you want to do, you may be doing yourself a huge disservice because you are accumulating sleep debt which will be paid off during the weekend. However, you can never completely get back the lost sleep.

There is such thing as deep sleep rebound and REM sleep rebound – meaning that after a period of sleep deprivation, your brain will significantly shorten light sleep stages and rush you into deep and/or REM sleep – whichever you were lacking – in order to compensate for the previous loss of sleep.

Why is the amount of sleep important?

Not having enough sleep is linked to anxiety, depression, bad memory, low learning capacity, weak immune system, and weight problems. As the brain isn’t given the chance to clear from plaque buildup, scientists suspect insufficient sleep is related to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Many sleep disorders are linked to poor sleep habits – narcolepsy, sleep paralysis, insomnia (poor sleep leads to inability to fall asleep), sleepwalking in adults, and more.

Research has shown that children who sleep a recommended amount of time and are taught good sleep hygiene are less likely to be depressed, suffer from sleep problems, and make poor life choices including substance abuse when they grow older.

Quality of sleep – how well do you sleep?

Remember that the quality of sleep is extremely important – if your brain doesn’t go through all sleep stages, you may end up waking up feeling unrefreshed and drowsy. Unfortunately, it is very easy to impair our sleep quality – drugs, alcohol, stress, sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), nocturia, insomnia, and other, severely impair sleep quality and can lessen your chances of having a good night’s sleep. They all prevent your brain from having sufficient amount of deep restorative sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

After having such non-restorative sleep for a long time, you may experience depressive thoughts, pain, bad memory, and weight problems.

Improve your sleep starting – now

Although you should take into consideration the amount of time you spend sleeping, you should also mind your sleep quality. These two make a perfect combination for healthy sleep. If you want to have good sleep, you should avoid some common mistakes and make sure your sleep hygiene equals good sleep schedule, favorable behavior, and appropriate diet.

Set up your sleep environment so that it makes your sleep enjoyable. It shouldn’t be too hot nor too cold – sleeping in a cool room is beneficial for your sleep and helps you burn extra calories. Turn off all electronics well before bed. Screens emit blue light which may postpone melatonin production and delay the onset of your sleep. If you can’t make your room dark enough and noise-free, consider using earplugs or a sleep mask.

Exercise during the day for at least 20 minutes and expose yourself to sunlight. These will put your circadian rhythm in good working order and promote health and well-being. Your neurotransmitter levels will be well-balanced and at the end of the day will let you sleep tight and on time.

Stick to a regular sleep schedule – go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This will stabilize your sleep-wake cycle, improve your cognitive performance during the day and may help get rid of some sleep problems. You should also establish a bedtime routine – for example, have a warm bath, drink tea, and read a book.

Mind your food. Avoid caffeine, drugs, alcohol and heavy meals before bed. You should have a light meal consisting of vegetables, nuts, and seeds. A warm glass of milk or calming tea like chamomile or peppermint makes a good finish to the end of your day.

Additional resources

  1. How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? National Sleep Foundation.
    https://www.sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need-0 Accessed on December 21, 2018.
  2. Olson E.J. How many hours of sleep are enough for good health? Mayoclinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/how-many-hours-of-sleep-are-enough/faq-20057898 Accessed on December 21, 2018.

The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. Read our full medical disclaimer.

Share
Share