Sleep is one of the most important parts of your day. It is a time when your mind processes information, adds or enhances memories, and restores itself. Getting enough sleep is crucial to health, but many practitioners and researchers debate what constitutes “enough sleep.”
While sleep and brain processes are still largely unknown, scientists have agreed upon the amount of sleep the average individual needs. In fact, the CDC keeps updated charts and guidelines for getting enough sleep, based on age.
Not getting enough sleep can wreak havoc on health, regardless of age. These charts break down the range of hours of sleep needed per night for a person to feel rested, have high cognitive ability, and remain emotionally stable. As we get older, the amount of sleep required to reap the benefits declines.
If you tend to feel rundown and foggy during the day, notice an increase in anxiety or irritability, and maybe even a pattern of overeating, you may struggle with a sleep disorder. Missing the mark on the minimum required sleep can quickly turn into sleep deprivation and cause numerous health and behavioral changes.
These recommended sleep amounts ensure you aren’t sleeping too little or too much. After all, oversleeping is also a symptom of an underlying illness and can be just as detrimental as sleep deprivation.
How Much Sleep We Need Is Based on Age
While recommended sleep quantities tend to focus on the amount of sleep people get, the quality is also vital in keeping a healthy brain. Understanding how much sleep you need can help you regulate your needs and make lifestyle changes to improve the quality of your sleep.
- Newborns (0 to 3 months old): 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day
- Infant (4 to 11 months old): 12 to 16 hours per day, including daytime naps
- Toddler (1 to 2 years old): 11 to 14 hours per day, including daytime naps
- Preschool (3 to 5 years old): 10 to 13 hours per day, including daytime naps
- School-aged children (6 to 13 years old): 9 to 12 hours per day
- Adolescents (14 to 17 years old): 8 to 10 hours per day
- Younger adults (18 to 25 years old) 7 to 9 hours per day
- Adult (26 to 64 years old): 7 to 9 hours per day
- Older adults (65 and older): 7 to 8 hours per day
The National Sleep Foundation recently updated these guidelines based on a two-year sleep study involving 18 participants from world-renowned medical organizations, including the American Psychiatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics. They reviewed more than 300 publications on sleep research. By thoroughly reviewing new studies and information on sleep, these medical professionals created a new age group for the list and updated how many hours adults need overall.
As with the previous sleep guidelines, the panel of experts was clear that people should take personal experience into account when determining their sleep needs. While some adults reported needing only 5 to 6 hours of sleep per night to feel rested, others reported needing 10 hours.
Sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 10 hours can indicate mental or physical health problems, including sleep disorders. If you fall into either extreme, talk to your doctor about potential health issues associated with these problems.
Sleep Cycles & Aging
Getting enough sleep means that your brain has enough time to move through a full sleep cycle, which includes light sleep, deep non-rapid eye movement (nREM) sleep, and REM or dream states. Typically, you need three to five nREM to REM cycles per night to feel rested. Once this cycle is complete, you will gradually wake up.
For most people, waking up in the morning and progressively getting tired at night is part of their regular circadian rhythm. However, this rhythm changes naturally as you age.
Sleep latency, or the time it takes you to fall asleep, along with wake frequency increase as people age. Not only do older adults take longer to fall asleep, but they also wake up more often throughout the night. These changes to the circadian rhythm mean middle-aged, older, and elderly adults spend the same amount of time resting in bed, yet spend less time actually asleep.
Older adults also spend less time in nREM, and may wake up more abruptly from sleep compared to when they were younger. Despite stereotypes of older adults sleeping often and early, healthy older adults require less sleep and spend less time asleep compared to younger adults.
Physical changes, mental changes, and medications can change sleep patterns faster than aging and may lead to sleep deprivation in older and elderly adults. Older adults are more likely to take opioid medications to manage chronic pain, are more likely to struggle with anxiety and depression, and may struggle with urine retention or physical discomfort in bed— all of which can change their sleep patterns.
Sleep deprivation occurs when you do not get enough sleep. While this can occur after several nights of little sleep, failing to sleep for a single night can adversely affect your mental and emotional state. About 7 to 9 percent of American adults report not getting enough sleep, often leading to sleep deprivation.
About 40 percent of adults say they have fallen asleep during the day without meaning to because they are sleep deprived. Between 50 and 70 million Americans have chronic sleep disorders like insomnia, which prevents them from getting enough rest.
If sitting down for any reason— like reading a book or working on a project— leads you to feel as if you could easily fall asleep, you may be sleep-deprived. Signs you might be sleep-deprived include:
- You did not get seven hours of sleep the previous night or several nights.
- You sleep at the wrong time of day, indicating changes to your circadian rhythm.
- You do not sleep well or get enough sleep cycles at night.
- You struggle with a specific sleep disorder or medical condition that causes you to lose sleep.
Losing sleep affects your performance. One or more of these experiences can lead to decreased cognitive ability, memory problems, slow physical reaction times, and mood swings. Being sleep deprived is just as dangerous as being intoxicated in some situations; for example, driving while sleep deprived is reportedly similar to driving while under the influence because you cannot react to dangers on the road.
Sleep-deprived adults will also have trouble learning new information, focusing, problem-solving, and managing social interactions with friends and family.
Children display symptoms of sleep deprivation differently than adults. Preschool and school-aged children may become physically hyperactive, loud and reactionary, and have trouble focusing on schoolwork or playtime. They are more likely to misbehave in class, often causing their schoolwork to suffer.
In adults, sleep deprivation is associated with stress. Work changes, major life events, family problems, and changes in physical health can cause stress that leads to trouble staying asleep. Practicing relaxation techniques, working with a counselor, and finding positive methods of understanding and managing your stress can help you sleep during these times.
Adults may suffer from sleep deprivation due to health problems, including:
- Heart disease
- Kidney disease
- High blood pressure
- Chronic depression or anxiety
Failing to get enough sleep can increase feelings of stress, which can increase your risk of health conditions. Although taking a nap can be a short-term method of improving mental and emotional states when struggling with sleep deprivation, it is better to get regular sleep. It’s also not possible to make up “sleep debt,” despite how easy it is to accrue.
Going to bed at the same time every night and getting up at the same time in the morning can force you to fall into a circadian rhythm and regulate your sleep patterns.
Oversleeping Is Also Harmful
Sleep deprivation is a serious and unfortunately common problem in the U.S. However, oversleeping can also harm your health and may indicate underlying health problems.
Oversleeping can cause several issues, including:
- Cognitive impairment, such as trouble making decisions or thinking clearly.
- Depression and other mental illnesses.
- Increased inflammation, which can lead to chronic pain.
- Impaired fertility.
- Higher risk of obesity.
- Increased risk of diabetes.
- Elevated risk of heart disease and stroke.
Too much sleep is also associated with degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. A 2017 study conducted in Spain suggested that too little and too much sleep were both associated with a higher risk of dementia later in life.
Oversleeping can also increase overall physical pain. Sleeping for extended periods of time in a position that is not ergonomic can increase back pain, neck pain, and joint pain. People who oversleep have a higher risk of headaches, including migraines and tension headaches.
Less physical activity due to spending more time asleep is also associated with higher levels of physical pain, along with impaired glucose tolerance. This increases the risk of weight gain and diabetes.
Sleep Disorders Need Treatment
Many sleep disorders may cause you to oversleep, undersleep, or feel tired even though you got enough sleep. Some of the major sleep disorders in the United States include:
- Insomnia, which is the most common sleep disorder.
- Restless legs syndrome.
- Sleep apnea, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common form.
- Idiopathic hypersomnia.
Side effects from prescription medications— either used to treat sleep disorders directly or to manage other conditions— can cause changes in sleep patterns, sleep latency, how often you wake up at night, and more.
If changes in your sleep patterns begin after you start a new prescription medication, work with your doctor to adjust the dose or try a different prescription. This can help you get the right amount of sleep rather than oversleeping, becoming sleep deprived, or feeling exhausted.
Lifestyle Changes Can Reinforce Quality Sleep
If a physician rules out underlying health conditions like depression or heart disease, and you still struggle with getting enough sleep to feel rested, lifestyle changes can help. Many of these steps, like going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, fall under sleep hygiene— a set of recommendations from medical professionals about how to get the best quality rest.
The following recommendations can also help:
- If you are tired and do not fall asleep in 20 minutes after going to bed, get up, leave the room, and do something else until you feel tired again.
- Avoid screens like televisions, phones, and computers for at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Find ways to keep your bedroom dark and cool.
- Eat a lighter dinner, about two hours before going to bed.
Implementing sleep hygiene practices can help you get quality sleep regularly, so you avoid oversleeping, sleep deprivation, and other health issues. Using the sleep time recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation can help you set adequate bedtimes and wake up times to ensure you are clocking in enough sleep.
Aside from sleep disorders, underlying health issues, and increased stress levels, your mattress may be preventing you from getting enough sleep. If you continue to lose sleep due to pain, waking up frequently, or struggling to get comfortable, it may be time to upgrade to the best mattress, pillow, and bed sheets for your needs. Making these adjustments to your bedroom can improve your sleep quality in a matter of days.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.