How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Your mother says you must get eight hours of sleep every night for good health. Margaret Thatcher famously ran the United Kingdom on four hours’ sleep each night. And your boss is like a bear with a sore head if he gets less than ten. So how much sleep do you really need?

The USA’s National Sleep Foundation has recently updated its recommendations for the amount of sleep we should get each night. To come up with its recommendations, the Foundation conducted a rigorous study in which 18 top scientists and researchers from fields such as pediatrics, gynecology, geriatrics and physiology formed an expert panel. The experts reviewed over 300 current scientific publications and voted on how much sleep we need at different stages of life.

The recommendations acknowledge that there is a wide variation of sleep needs between individuals. Hence, for each age group, there is a broad recommended zone for most people and a buffer zone on either side of the recommended zone that may be appropriate for some people. Nightly amounts of sleep that fall outside these extremes are not recommended.

The table below shows the new recommendations for how much sleep we need at different stages of life.

Stage of life Recommended hours of sleep per night for most people This wider range of hours of sleep may be appropriate for some individuals
 Newborn (0-3 months)  14-17  11-19
 Infant (4-11 months)  12-15  10-18
 Toddler (1-2 years)  11-14  9-16
 Pre-school (3-5 years)  10-13  8-14
 School age (6-13 years)  9-11  7-12
 Teen (14-17 years)  8-10  7-11
 Young adult (18-25 years)  7-9  6-11
 Adult (26-64 years)  7-9  6-10
 Older adult (65+ years)  7-8  5-9

Listen to your body

The Foundation emphasizes that as well as the broad recommendations above, to determine your own individual sleep needs it’s important to listen to your body and be aware of how you feel after various amounts of sleep.

Do you feel great after seven hours of sleep or do you struggle on less than nine?

Given the pace of modern life, many of us are chronically sleep deprived and may not be aware that we aren’t meeting our sleep needs. Do you need several hits of caffeine to make it through the day? Do you feel tired during sedentary activities such as watching TV or reading a book? Your body may be telling you you’re not getting enough sleep.

It’s also important to note that the amount of sleep we need can be significantly affected by lifestyle factors such as how much stress we are under and work pressures and schedules, as well as by our general health. Alterations in these factors may significantly affect the amount of sleep we need.

Finally, the Foundation stresses the importance of making sleep a priority. It’s tempting to fit sleep in around all the other things we have to get done. But once you’ve determined the amount of nightly sleep that you need, make sure you organise yourself so that you can meet your sleep requirements.   All your tasks will still be there the next day, so it’s best to face them with a fresh mind and body!



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