As a child, you probably hated going to bed early. Then as a teen, sleep became your favorite activity. You skimped on it and pulled all-nighters in college. Then as an adult, you finally learned how important it was to get a good night’s sleep to function properly during the day.
As we age, our sleep needs change. In this article, we’ll go over how much sleep you need, the importance of quality sleep, how to tell if you’re getting enough sleep, and how to get the right amount of sleep regularly.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?
The truth is, when it comes to sleep duration, there is no single number that is right for everyone. Sleep varies by individual and changes at different times throughout a lifespan.
However, here’s a general guideline for nightly sleep requirements for different age groups from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Newborns ages 0 to 3 months need 14 to 17 hours of sleep
- Infants ages 4 to 12 months need 12 to 16 hours of sleep, including naps
- Toddlers ages 1 to 2 years need 11 to 14 hours of sleep, including naps
- Preschool, 3 to 5 years need 10 to 13 hours of sleep including naps
- Children, 6 to 12 years need 9 to 12 hours of sleep
- Teens, 13 to 18 years need 8 to 10 hours of sleep
- Adults between 18 to 61 need seven or more hours of sleep. Adults between 61 to 64 years need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. And adults 65 years and older need 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
Most healthy adults require somewhere in the range of seven to nine hours of nightly sleep to feel rested, mentally sharp, and alert, with sufficient energy to meet the demands of the waking day. Most of us need at least seven or more hours of sleep regularly to function at and feel our best.
What is Sleep Debt?
If you’re like most Americans, getting seven or more hours of sleep might seem unrealistic or difficult to achieve. Busy schedules and the rigorous demands of work and family life often force you to push your sleep needs aside.
In the United States, sleep deprivation has reached epidemic levels. Estimates are that nearly a third of U.S. adults are sleeping less than seven hours a night. Chronic insufficient sleep has severe long-term consequences for your health, productivity, and relationships. Getting enough sleep is not only possible, but it’s also too important to ignore.
A night or two of less sleep every once in a while will make you feel mentally and physically fatigued but probably won’t affect your health or performance over the long term. Sleep deprivation becomes a real problem to health and quality of life when it becomes the rule rather than the exception.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep that your body needs over several days? You accumulate a sleep deficit which becomes your sleep debt.
Sleep debt accrues like any other kind of debt—when you don’t “pay in” what you owe—in this case, sufficient time for restful sleep. While being tired at the end of the day helps increase the need for sleep, too much sleep debt can cause problems with daily functioning and overall health. Large sleep debt can lead to diminished mental performance and changes to your appetite.
Erasing a sleep debt that’s been accrued is best done gradually. If you’ve run short on sleep during the week, it may be tempting to throw on your sleep mask and try to catch up with extra sleep on the weekends. Research suggests that this catch-up strategy doesn’t fully remedy the effects of the initial sleep loss.
A varying sleep schedule also undermines your body’s ability to regulate sleep effectively. Too much catch-up sleep can leave you wide awake and unable to fall asleep by the end of the weekend. This “Sunday night insomnia” translates into “Monday morning blues,” as you wake tired from too little sleep.
You can avoid this see-sawing sleep difficulty by maintaining a regular bedtime and wake time throughout the week. If you find yourself short on sleep after a stretch of insufficient rest, add no more than 30-60 minutes of extra sleep to your bedtime.
Why is Getting the Right Amount of Sleep Important?
The right amount of sleep is the amount that leaves you feeling rejuvenated, refreshed, and prepared for the day ahead. Identifying the amount of sleep that meets your individual needs is the first step toward a lifelong habit of healthy sleep.
No one can function without sleep. Sleep is a crucial part of healthy living that supports the proper functioning of every organ in the body and biological processes like daytime alertness, digestion, immune functioning, and hormone release. Sleep also allows your body to truly heal, repair itself, and recover.
Getting adequate sleep is the simplest and most important way to support physical health, mental health, emotional health, and overall quality of life.
How to Tell if You’re Getting the Right Amount of Sleep
If you take time to just listen to your body, you’ll find out it tells you a lot about how you treat it and how it’s fairing.
Some of the potential signs to watch out for that tell you whether you’ve been getting the right amount of sleep include:
- You fall asleep within 20 to 30 minutes at night.
- You don’t need your alarm to wake you up in the mornings.
- Your morning alertness is high enough that you don’t need caffeine.
- You don’t take too many naps during the day.
- You don’t feel groggy or cranky during the day.
- You don’t feel hungry more than usual.
- Your mood is just right.
- Your skin is clear and bright.
- You don’t have difficulties concentrating during the day.
- Your head is clear, and you can process information adequately.
How to Get the Amount of Sleep You Need
The key to avoiding sleep debt is consistency. Regular bedtimes and wake times help ensure you’re getting enough sleep to meet your individual needs.
Creating a routine that lets you meet your sleep needs is possible with some simple adjustments. For most people, it is easier to adjust bedtimes and wake times. However, you can start by identifying the time you need to rise in the morning. To determine your bedtime, work backward a total of eight hours from your necessary wake time. Spend a week or so on this sleep schedule.
If you’re getting sufficient sleep, you should feel focused with enough energy to meet both mental and physical demands throughout the day. Pay attention to how you feel, and continue to adjust your bedtime to refine your sleep duration until you find the number that works for you.
Once you’ve found the sleep routine that works for you, stick to it— even on the weekends. A regular sleep schedule is your best defense against racking up a significant sleep debt.