How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Sleep plays an essential role in maintaining good physical and mental health. The process releases essential hormones, restores energy, repairs tissue and supports daytime performance. As such, lack of sleep is dangerous to our health; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who experience sleep insufficiency are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, including hypertension, diabetes, depression and obesity, as well as a reduced quality of life and productivity. Despite the essential role sleep plays in keeping us healthy, insufficient sleep is a major problem in the United States, with an estimated 35 percent of U.S. adults not getting the recommended amount of sleep per night. One of the major obstacles adults face in fighting sleep insufficiency is simply knowing how much sleep they need. With sleeplessness increasingly becoming a public health problem, the National Sleep Foundation recently released an updated report with new guidelines for the recommended hours of sleep by each age. Below, we’ve outlined the main reasons sleep is important, as well as an overview of how many hours of sleep you really need and how to get them. Read on to learn how much sleep you need by age, or skip ahead to learn: Why You Need Sleep Why You Can't Fall Asleep How to Improve Sleep
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
The National Sleep Foundation recently revisited the recommended hours of sleep you need at each age. The study, published in Sleep Health, brought together 18 leading scientists and researchers, including six sleep specialists. The panel’s new recommended hours of sleep by age are below. How Much Sleep Do Children Need?
Babies, children and teenagers typically need between 8 and 17 hours of sleep. Newborn babies need the most sleep because they haven’t developed functional biological clocks yet, which makes their sleep sporadic. As children age, these circadian “clocks” develop, allowing them to sleep longer. Additionally, deep sleep triggers the hormone that promotes growth in children and teens, making sleep critical to children who are still developing physically and mentally.
How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?
Adults typically need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep. Although it’s true that the amount of sleep we need lessens as we grow older, it does so only slightly—we need about the same amount of sleep at age 20 that we do at age 70. It’s more accurate to say that our sleep patterns change. For example, the sleep patterns of teenagers learn toward later times for both sleeping and waking, which is why adolescents often find themselves alert at night and have difficulty waking up earlier. As we age, this changes. While adults only need about an hour or two less sleep than teenagers, they often find themselves going to sleep earlier and rising earlier than when they were younger, especially as age increases.
Why Do You Need Sleep?
Simply stated, you need sleep because it is directly linked to mental and physical health. While you sleep, your body works to repair itself, supporting brain function, physical health and next-day performance. Consequently, insufficient sleep can put you at risk for serious health problems.
Sleep and Physical Health
Your body requires sleep to stay healthy. During the N3 stage of sleep, which is the deepest and most restorative sleep stage according to the National Sleep Foundation, the blood supply to muscles increases, tissue growth and repair occurs, energy is restored and essential growth hormones are released. Not getting the hours of sleep you need negatively affects your physical health: sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers and obesity. Additionally, sleep deprivation increases irritability, fatigue and lethargy, and makes you more immune to common colds.
Sleep and Emotional Health
In addition to the vital role sleep plays in maintaining good physical health, it also promotes good mental and emotional health. Sleep and mood are linked; not getting the recommended hours of sleep makes it difficult to cope with stress and manage emotions, often leading to irritability and worry. In contrast, quality sleep enhances our mood. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, sleep deprivation doesn’t have to be dramatic to affect mood. The study found that subjects who were limited to 4.5 hours of sleep a night for a single week reported feeling more sad, stressed, angry and mentally exhausted. However, when the subjects returned to their normal sleep schedule, their mood improved significantly. In addition to the effect sleep deprivation has on mood, sleep disorders also put us at a significant risk for poor mental health. Those who suffer with chronic sleep disorders, such as insomnia, are at an increased risk for developing emotional disorders, depression and anxiety.
Sleep and Performance
Sufficient sleep is also linked to our overall performance and quality of life. According to the National Sleep Association, the REM cycle of sleep, which occurs approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep and reoccurs every 90 minutes after that, is essential to performance as it provides energy to the brain and body and supports daytime performance. Additionally, getting enough sleep improves your learning ability, enhances your problem-solving skills, helps you pay attention and facilitates your decision-making. As such, insufficient sleep can lead to impaired brain activity, such as trouble thinking and concentrating, which negatively affects your performance throughout the day.
Signs You’re Sleep Deprived
Sleep deprivation is a serious issue that can have significant consequences on physical and mental health. However, the signs of sleep deprivation may not be obvious. If you’re experiencing one or more of the following signs of sleep deprivation on a regular basis, it may be time to rethink the amount of sleep you're getting.
Common signs of sleep deprivation
- Trouble focusing
- Lowered productivity
- Trouble making decisions
- Impaired motor skills
- Weakened immune system
- Skin breakouts
- Weight gain
- Daytime fatigue or drowsiness
- Falling asleep almost immediately at night
Why Can’t You Fall Asleep?
Despite the essential benefits of getting enough sleep, many of us find ourselves tossing and turning in the middle of the night, unable to fall asleep. In fact, according to a report issued by the CDC, more than a third of American adults don’t get the recommended hours of sleep on a regular basis. The factors that contribute to sleep insufficiency vary by person, but some of the common reasons for sleep deficiency include sleep disorders and symptoms resulting from chronic illnesses.
Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation
Sleep disorders are conditions that affect a person’s ability to sleep well on a regular basis. Sleep disorders are fairly common in the United States; statics from the American Sleep Association state that between 50 and 70 million U.S. adults suffer from a sleep disorder. According to the CDC, there are several key sleep disorders, including:
Insomnia: Characterized by the inability to fall asleep or maintain sleep; people who suffer from insomnia can present with a variety of sleep-related symptoms, including trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep, waking up too early or a combination of these symptoms. According to the Sleep Management Institute, insomnia affects an estimated 30–50 percent of the general population; about 10 percent suffer from chronic insomnia.
Restless leg syndrome: Characterized by uncomfortable, unpleasant sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move legs to relieve the symptoms. Symptoms typically occur when a person is resting, such as when they’re lying in bed, and the urge to move the leg therefore interferes with the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, often causing daytime sleepiness and exhaustion. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, an estimated 7–10 percent of the U.S. population suffers from restless leg syndrome.
Sleep apnea: Characterized by one or more pauses in breathing while sleeping. These pauses can last from a few seconds to minutes, which often causes the sufferer to wake up gasping for air. This causes sleep interruptions that can lead to excessive daytime sleepiness and chronic fatigue. According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 18 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea.
Narcolepsy: Characterized by the brain’s inability to control sleep-wake cycles; this disorder presents with sudden and uncontrollable bouts of sleep which can last from a few seconds to several minutes. The National Sleep Foundation reports that narcolepsy affects one in approximately 2,000–3,000 people.
Chronic Diseases and Sleep Deprivation
People with chronic illnesses often experience symptoms, pain and stress resulting from these diseases that interfere with sleep and lead to daytime drowsiness and sleep deficiency. Common diseases associated with not getting enough sleep include:
Diabetes: Characterized by the body’s inability to produce or regulate insulin; several symptoms of uncontrolled diabetes, including frequent urination, extreme thirst, night sweats and symptoms of hypoglycemia affect the ability to get enough sleep. Additionally, people with diabetes are at risk for developing certain sleep disorders, including sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.
Obesity: Characterized by having excessive body fat, obesity increases the likelihood of developing sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. According to a study conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, losing weight and belly fat actually improves sleep.
Thyroid problems: Characterized by problems affecting the thyroid gland; both hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can cause sleep problems. Hyperthyroidism overstimulates the nervous system, causing symptoms like anxiety and rapid heart rate, which makes getting the recommended amount of sleep difficult. Hypothyroidism often presents with symptoms including fatigue, depression and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Musculoskeletal disorders: Characterized by injuries, damage or disorders to the muscles, bones and joints. Pain associated the musculoskeletal disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis often makes it difficult to get enough sleep; similarly, neurological disorders that cause musculoskeletal problems, such as Parkinson’s disease, can hinder sleep.
Anxiety: Characterized by persistent and excessive worry; this can lead to trouble falling asleep and staying asleep, as well as restlessness and insomnia.
Depression: Characterized by persistent sadness, hopelessness and loss of interest; sleep problems are often associated with severe depressive illnesses. Sufferers of depression are likely to suffer from a number of sleep-related symptoms, including difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep and excessive daytime sleepiness.
Tips to Improve SleepSleep deprivation is a serious issue. If you think you might be sleep deprived, assess your current levels of energy and sleep habits. Then, follow these easy tips to improve sleep:
- Keep a sleep diary to assess what’s helping you sleep better
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid alcohol, nicotine and caffeine
- Improve your sleep environment by adjusting the temperature, sound, light and air quality
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress
- Avoid electronics before bedtime
- Establish a relaxing pre-sleep routine
- Avoid napping during the day
- Avoid large meals before bedtime
You can also check out these expert tips on how to fall asleep fast. If all else fails, it might be time for a new mattress. BedPillows.com carries a variety of sizes and firmness options to help you get the best fit for your room.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1, 2 | National Sleep Foundation 1, 2, 3, 4 | National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute | Help Guide 1, 2 | Harvard Medical School | Joslin Diabetes Center | Mayo Clinic | Very Well | Sleep.org | Health