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How Much Sleep Do You Really Need Each Night?
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How Much Sleep Do You Really Need Each Night?

Sleep Science
Read Time: 6 minutes

Everyone has had that moment when they worry about not getting enough sleep. You crawl into bed, glance at the clock, and panic because it’s less than eight hours until you need to be up.

For some people, getting anything less than eight hours of sleep equates to sleep deprivation. Yet, there are plenty of people who can get by on much less sleep. Some people can wake up the next day feeling well-rested after only five hours of sleep. If sleep patterns vary so much by individual needs, then how much sleep do you really need?

How Much Sleep is Recommended?

how much sleep do you really need?

A healthy adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep every night, and following a consistent sleep schedule will help you function at your best. It is possible to get by on less sleep, but you won’t be functioning optimally.

Seven or eight hours of sleep might sound indulgent to people who scrape by on much less each night. Many living hectic lives may be getting by on six hours a night or less. Over time, this sleep schedule turns into chronic sleep deprivation; and though you may think you can thrive on less than seven hours of sleep, the lack of rest can take a toll on your mind and body without you even realizing.

Unfortunately, you cannot go weeks, months, or years on very little sleep and then spend a few days in bed to recover. There is no way to “catch up on sleep” when you’re chronically sleep deprived.

Sleep Needs by Age

As you age, the amount of sleep you need fluctuates. Children need more sleep than adults. Infants can sleep up to 19 hours a day, while a toddler needs about 12 hours to get a good night’s rest. School children and teenagers need at least nine hours to optimize their health and well-being. Older people tend to have poorer sleep quality as they age. Adults over 60 may find they get better sleep by adding an afternoon nap to their routine.

Below, we break down the recommended sleep needs by age.

AgeRecommended Sleep Durations
Newborns (0-3 months)14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months)12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years)11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years)10-13 hours
School age children (6-13 years)9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years)8-10 hours
Young adults (18-25 years)7-9 hours
Adults (26-64 years)7-9 hours
Older adults (65+)7-8 hours

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Sleep?

Did you know that we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping? In our busy culture, sleep is often viewed as a luxury. Yet, healthy sleep is as essential to human life as nutrition and hydration.

Sleep and Physical Health

Sleeping too few hours each night can cause serious health problems because your body doesn’t have time to repair itself. When we sleep, the tissue in our bodies is able to repair and rebuild so we can maintain our physical health. This includes the tissue in the brain, heart, and lungs. Chronic sleep deprivation leads to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

Lack of sleep can also lead to weight gain and obesity. When you don’t get enough deep sleep, you may notice you are hungrier than usual.

Your hunger is because your body is craving sugar to fuel it through the extra hours of wakefulness. Sleep deprivation also disrupts the normal balance of hunger controlling hormones. Additionally, the more hours you’re awake, the more calories you can consume.

Sleep and Memory

Insufficient sleep can lead to problems with learning and memory.

When you’re sleeping, your brain processes and stores new information. If you’re sleep deprived, this won’t happen. So staying up all night to study might do more harm than good when you can’t make sense of the test questions in the morning.

Lack of sleep also impacts the way your memory functions. Visual, motor, and procedural memory are each processed during a different stage of REM sleep. If you don’t sleep deeply and get the right amount of sleep, you won’t cycle through enough stages of REM sleep. Without these stages, your brain won’t spend time cataloging those memories.

In fact, people who get six hours of sleep or less each night are more at risk for developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

People who are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease have amyloid plaques in their brains. Sleep plays a critical role in cleaning the brain each night. While we are sleeping, our bodies remove amyloid plaques from the brain. Just one night of sleep deprivation can increase the amount of amyloid in the brain. Over time, this can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.

Sleep and Mental Health

Sleep deprivation negatively impacts mood. This is especially true for people with pre-existing mental health concerns. When a person who is already depressed is also too busy to get enough shut-eye, depression can worsen. If you have a history of mental illness, your sleep duration is as important to your mental health as all other self-care.

Sleep and Accidents

If you’ve ever stayed up all night, you know you aren’t your best self the next day. Without sleep, you think more slowly and have a delayed reaction time. This can be dangerous for people who drive, operate machinery, or work in health professions. Serious accidents are more likely to take place when a person is sleep-deprived. In fact, drowsy driving collisions account for nearly 6,000 fatal accidents every year.

Signs You May Not Be Getting Enough Sleep

Are you worried that your lack of sleep is impacting your safety, mental health, or memory? To know whether you’re sleeping a healthy amount, you need to consider both the number of hours you spend in bed and the quality of sleep you get while you’re there. If you’re having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, you probably hit the snooze button over and over. Then, you get out of bed feeling sluggish, knowing you’re not getting enough sleep each night.

Living life while sleep deprived simply doesn’t feel good. If you want to feel better and function more efficiently, you need to pay attention to your sleep needs.

Signs You’re Not Sleeping Enough

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s time to make changes to improve your sleep hygiene.

  • You can’t wake up without an alarm clock, even on weekends.
  • You want to oversleep or sleep all day on weekends.
  • You hit snooze every morning.
  • You don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.
  • You get sleepy during quiet activities like meetings.
  • Daytime sleepiness intensifies after lunch.
  • Your drive home from work has you nodding off.
  • You have the urge to nap in the afternoon.
  • You wish you could sleep better.

How to Get the Sleep You Need

Sure, it sounds obvious, but going to bed earlier is going to help you get more hours of quality sleep. For a busy person or a night owl, the task of going to sleep earlier might seem impossible. Yet, you will actually be more productive the next day. You’ll feel more focused and accomplish more than if you’d stayed up late the night before.

Sleep experts recommend setting and keeping a strict sleep schedule. Going to bed and waking at the same time each day can help your circadian rhythm work more efficiently and lead to better sleep.

Daily exercise can help you fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply. Try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Keep your workouts to mornings or early afternoon. Working out too late in the day can make it harder to go to sleep.

Create a relaxing routine before bed. For some people who aren’t getting enough sleep, making bedtime more enjoyable can help you work up the urge to go to bed. Enjoy a cup of herbal or decaf tea, take a hot bath, read a book, or listen to your favorite podcast.

But don’t make screen time part of your bedtime routine. The blue light from your phone, computer, tablet, or tv screen can disrupt your body’s circadian rhythms, making it hard to get the rest you need.

When It’s Time to Talk to Your Doctor About Your Sleep

If you’ve made changes to your sleep habits like going to bed earlier and are still having sleep problems, talk to your healthcare provider. Many medical conditions can lead to sleep problems. Depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders are all common causes of impaired sleep. It may sound overwhelming initially, but there is a treatment for what’s keeping you from getting the sleep you need, and a healthcare professional can help.

When You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep

Most adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night. People who get less than seven hours of sleep are at risk for sleep deprivation. When you don’t get enough sleep, you might notice changes in your mental health or memory. Following a consistent bedtime routine and making changes to your sleep hygiene can help you get the sleep you need.

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