How much sleep do I need? That’s one question you begin to ask yourself when life hits you with crazy work schedules, unending college assignments, and those awesome movie marathons. Do I really need that much? Come on, staying up to watch that ever so exciting TV series shouldn’t have any adverse effect, right? Wrong!
Sleep is an essential part of living; it is the special time the body reserves to do its housekeeping. Try to conjure up an image of your bedroom three days after you stopped cleaning it, if you’re anything like us with our unrelenting habit of eating pizza on the bed then that image would be – scattered, uncomfortable and exhausting.
This is precisely how the human body feels after it has been deprived of sleep – the brain is scattered or disoriented, it becomes painful to do anything and exhausted is the best adjective to describe its state. Research evidence suggests that about 35% of American adults don’t get the recommended 7 hours of sleep needed.
Lack of sleep has been identified as a risk factor for developing a growing list of illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes, and depression. It goes without saying that if you value your health, you must conversely value your sleep.
There are also some conditions like idiopathic hypersomnia, where, people constantly suffer from extreme sleepiness, a sleep disorder that disrupts their life. So, it is not really clear-cut how much sleep each of us needs, since, in certain situations, it is the result of some chronic condition.
In this sense, we have decided to give you insights on precisely how much sleep you need, depending on different factors, like age, lifestyle etc.
How Much Sleep Should I Get?
Alright, alright, I get it, I need sleep and sleep needs me, but how much is enough really? If you grew up in the US, by now, you should be used to the sleep 8 hours a day mantra, a figure that probably originated from a survey of young adults who recorded their average sleeping times as 7.5 – 9 hours. Ideally, 8 hours of sleep is actually a great recommendation.
However, it shouldn’t be treated as the golden number of sleeping because, in reality, sleeping needs vary from one person to the other.
Note: Some people sleep for longer periods; others might get off sleeping for just 6 hours. This is not a function of a disorder or something else; it’s the nature of these people.
Scientists have now established that sleep patterns and duration are linked to certain genes. Individuals with a mutation in the DEC2 or ABCC9 gene, for instance, are known to sleep up to 2-3 hours less than others without any health repercussions. For you what is important is not sticking to blanket guidelines it is discovering your nature.
How to Tell if You’re Getting Enough Sleep?
Do you wake up tired, feeling very reluctant to get out of bed? Granted everyone loves the warm and soothing embrace of their bed but is your relationship with your bed an overly attached one? Are you struggling day in day out to free yourself from its clutches?
If you’ve answered any of these questions with a yes, the chances are high that you are not getting enough sleep. Fret not; you’re not alone, given the current octane-pumped world we live in, a significant majority of the adult population are currently in the same state.
How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
The National Institute of Health recommends the following hours for sleeping based on age groups;
- Adults aged 18 to 64 year; a 7-9 hour night’s rest is sufficient
- Older adults from 64 years upwards will do well with 7-8 hours of sleep
- Pregnant women will need additional time both during the day and at night to buffer their sleep schedules.
Remember that the actual number of sleeping hours varies from person to person, these sleeping times only serve as a reference point to help you gauge how much sleep you need. Are you a sleeper, someone who naturally sleeps for longer like Einstein or do get off with sleeping for short periods like Thomas Edison, Napoleon or Winston Churchill?
Here’s a four-part assessment to help you clarify and modify your sleeping habits:
- On the average how much time does it take before you fall asleep
Sleep latency the time interval it takes to enter into a sleep state is an essential marker of your sleeping needs. For people getting enough sleep, it takes between 15-20 minutes to fall asleep on the average. If you fall asleep immediately you jump into bed, you’re most likely needing more sleep than you’re currently getting, and if you struggle to sleep even after a full hour on the bed, you’re part of the select few who are sleeping for too long in the country.
- Do you wake up frequently at night
Waking up in the middle of your sleep schedule is sometimes a sign of an underlying health condition, however, for the most part, this usually happens when you’re sleeping for too long. It is essentially your body saying to you ‘hey buddy; I’m pretty much-done housekeeping, any chance we could go play some golf.’
You had better heed the golf playing call because just like little sleeping, sleeping for unnecessarily long periods also has similar detrimental effects on your body.
- How often do you are you awake ahead of the alarm
If you’re the one waking up your alarm, and not the other way round, then you might be getting much more sleep than is needed. If your alarm is set for 6 am, and you find yourself waking up at 5 am on a regular basis, it goes without saying that you’re getting one extra hour of unnecessary sleep.
- How lively you feel during the day
The most important marker, however, is something we’ve already touched in the course of this article. It is how alive you feel during the day. A normal healthy adult should be energetic and active. If you need caffeine to keep a clear head, or always find yourself in a lethargic state where doing anything seems to take the life force out of you, then it’s most likely that you’re not getting enough sleep. Do you find yourself dozing off during lunch break? Again, it might be because you’re getting too little sleep.
After taking this sleep test, you can know for certain determine if you’re getting enough sleep or otherwise. Whichever is the case you can then make corrections based on the NIH guidelines?
One other thing to note, with time, as we shall soon see in this article, sleeping schedules change.
With age comes certain bodily changes that affect how we sleep. As an example, secretion of melatonin, a neuro-hormone implicated in the functioning of circadian rhythm is greatly diminished with age, and generally, older adults are known to sleep earlier and wake up earlier than the rest of the population.
So, while sleeping for 8 hours might seem convenient when you’re 30, by the time you get to 50 there’s a high probability that this would have changed.
How Many Hours Of Sleep Do Kids Need?
Children are blessed with a convenient and unique ability to engage in long sleeping sessions, Newborns, for example, can sleep for up to 18 hours no stress. As a matter of fact, newborns don’t develop any form of circadian rhythm for the three months of their life, they sleep whenever they like although for much shorter periods than adults, usually 3 to 4 hours.
As they get older, they begin to develop a sleeping routine, and by 12 months of age, they have fully mustered up a unique sleeping pattern.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, these are the recommended hours per day for each age level:
- Newborn babies, under three months of age, need between 14-18 hours of sleep
- Infants from 4 months up to 11 months require 12 – 16 hours
- Toddlers, children aged 1 or 2 years, are good with 11 -14 hours of sleep
- Children between the ages of 3 and five years can cope with 10-13 hours of sleep
- Older children from the age of 6 to 13 years need to sleep between 9-12 hours
- Teenagers (14-17 years) on the other hand can sleep for 8 -10 hours
Unlike like adults who can actively gauge how much sleep they need, children will ignore signs of insufficient sleep. To be on a safer side, it is imperative to stick to this sleep schedule for kids. Otherwise, they are at risk of diseases like obesity and others.
If your child has difficulty sleeping, below are a few guidelines on how to help him/her sleep easier:
How to Improve Your Sleeping?
So now you’ve determined that you’re not getting enough sleep, how do you improve your sleeping?
- Don’t mess up your circadian rhythm – Sleep when it is time to rest and get off the bed when it’s time to be awake. Keeping late nights alters your natural sleep schedule which in turn affects the quality and amount of sleep you will
- Exercise – Exercising regularly improves overall health and fosters better sleep. Do your best to include something in the range of a 30-minute workout into your daily schedule. Keep in mind that this activity shouldn’t fall close to our sleep time
- Watch what you eat – Tone down the alcohol coffee and sugar-laced meals. These contain known stimulants that may prevent you from falling asleep. Also, reduce your general food intake before bedtime; heavy meals keep your digestive system active which conversely keeps the whole body
- Work on your sleep environment – The quality of your sleep environment determines to a large extent how pleasant the sleeping experience will be. Ideally, a dim, cool and noiseless bedroom will surely give you the best
There are not many things that can benefit you more than a good night’s sleep. Although we tend to take it for granted, getting substantial hours of sleep is incremental towards maintaining a regular lifestyle and in particular for children, it also helps them grow physically.
Imagine a car engine without fuel; it can’t work. The same goes for humans; we need sleep as much as we need food to have energy and respond to our daily responsibilities. However, you should keep in mind that not every person requires the same hours of sleep, as it depends on many factors really how much sleep you need.
A result of the intermixing of different factors, including age, lifestyle, work habits, genes, it is not as simple to declare this or the other. You can only use the general guidelines as recommended so that you self-assess if you need more or less sleep, or even the possibility that you suffer from some sleep disorder, in which case you need to address the issue immediately.
In any case, if there is one thing to take from reading this post, is that sleep is a powerful tool for us human and we shouldn’t disregard it.