How Much Sleep Do You Need by Age?
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. Through childhood, the amount of sleep required to reap the benefits declines but when we become adults, it remains pretty constant.
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 not getting enough sleep. Missing the mark on the minimum required sleep can quickly turn into sleep deficiency and cause numerous health and behavioral changes.
These recommended sleep amounts ensure you aren’t sleeping too little or, rarely, too much. Steven Ward Lockley, Ph.D. suggests, “These sleep recommendations are for healthy people who do not have clinical sleep disorders and are a guide to ensure that you prioritize sufficient time for sleep at night.”
“If you cannot get enough sleep, or suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, even when trying to meet these recommendations, then you may wish to consult a sleep specialist to see if you have a clinical sleep disorder.”
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. Getting these amounts of sleep will help ensure you get enough of each sleep stage, all of which are important for good health.
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.
Adults should aim for a minimum of 7 hours per night and ideally more. While people sometimes report “needing” less sleep, it is rare that an individual functions optimally on only 5 to 6 hours of sleep and sleeping this little will still lead to sleep deficiency and long-term health issues.
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 sleep. Each cycle takes ~90-100 minutes in adults although the proportion of each sleep stage can vary through the night.
Slow-wave deep NREM sleep tends to occur earlier in sleep, with more REM typically towards the end of sleep. Both NREM and REM sleep are required for different brain functions and so avoid sleeping for short durations which will reduce how much of each stage is achieved.
The timing and quality of sleep depends on two rhythmic systems: The circadian (24-hour) clock and the sleep ‘homeostat’ which is based on how long one is awake, or asleep. For most people, when you wake up in the morning and how quickly you become tired at night is governed by the interaction of these two systems, which work together to keep you awake in the day and asleep at night. As we age, however, how these systems interact changes, altering your sleep.
Older people tend to go to sleep and wake up earlier than younger people, and may also wake up more often throughout the night. This may result in reduced sleep efficiency as not all of the time in bed is spent sleeping. 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, however, healthy older adults require less sleep and spend less time asleep compared to younger adults. In fact, when young and older people were asked to complete performance tasks over 26 hours without sleeping, the older participants performed much better. They should still aim for a minimum of 7 hours of sleep per night.
Physical changes, mental changes, pain and medications that can change sleep patterns may be more likely in older people, leading to sleep deficiency, rather than aging itself. 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 deficiency 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, and 40% or more may report sleep problems at some time during their lives.
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 you can fall asleep within 5 minutes during the day when sitting down quietly — like reading a book or working on a project— then you are very likely sleep-deprived. This may be due to not getting at least 7 hours sleep the previous night or for several nights, or due to 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. If you fall asleep at a stop light, or in meetings, you are dangerously sleepy and need to focus on getting more sleep, or seek help to test for a sleep disorder.
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.
Poor sleep may also impede physical and mental development and so it is particularly important to prioritize sleep for children and ensure that other factors are controlled such as not permitting caffeine or use of electronic devices for several hours before bed (as the light alerts the brain and prevents sleep).
In adults, sleep deficiency can be 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 before bed, working with a counselor, and finding positive methods of understanding and managing your stress can help you sleep during these times.
Avoiding light and use of electronic devices for several hours before bed will also help disconnect the day’s stress from sleep, and reduce the harmful alerting effects of light from phones and tablets.
Many chronic diseases have been associated with sleep deficiency, including:
- High blood pressure, heart disease and stroke
- Obesity and Diabetes
- Kidney disease
- Chronic depression and anxiety
Failing to get enough sleep can increase feelings of stress, which can further increase your risk of health conditions. Although taking an occasional short nap can be helpful as a short-term method of improving mental and emotional states when struggling with sleep deprivation, it should not become a substitute for sleep at night.
It is better to get regular sleep than rely on napping. It’s also not possible to make up “sleep debt,” despite how easy it is to accrue and so it is important to prioritize getting enough sleep each and every day.
Having a regular schedule is helpful – try to go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time in the morning. Also try to get as much exposure to light in the day as possible (but then avoid light for 2-3 hours before bed) and sleep in darkness at night (or use an eye mask). This approach can help synchronize your circadian rhythms and improve the regulation of your sleep patterns and sleep quality.
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 include:
- Insomnia, which is the most common sleep disorder
- Sleep apnea, with obstructive sleep apnea being the most common form
- Restless Legs Syndrome
- Shift Work Sleep Disorder
- 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 ideally 2-3 hours but at least 30 minutes before going to bed.
- Find ways to keep your bedroom dark and cool.
- Use an eye mask and earplugs if too light or noisy.
- 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.