The exact amount of sleep you need is different for each person, and will also change during your life.
But as a general rule of thumb, sleep experts do have some recommendations based on your age alone.
For example, newborns need 14 to 17 hours, teens need 8 to 10 hours, and most adults between 7 and 9 hours.
Many people try to survive on less sleep than the experts recommend. But regularly not getting enough sleep can have long-term health risks.
Equally, we’re all different. So along with the broad expert advice, it’s good to work out how much sleep you personally need to be at your best. And you’ll find out how to do that later in this article.
How much sleep you need according to your age
There are many factors that can affect the amount of sleep you really need, including:
- Your age.
- Your health.
- How physically and mentally active you are.
- Your diet and other lifestyle choices.
- Your genetics.
In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation produced detailed guidance on the ideal sleep duration for different age groups.
The foundation brought together a team of 18 sleep experts from a range of fields. And they analyzed over 300 research studies to create their guidance. So this could be the best advice for many years to come.
In addition to the ideal sleep duration, they also included two other recommendations:
- May be appropriate: These sleep durations might not be ideal, but shouldn’t cause undue concern.
- Not recommended: These sleep durations are definitely outside of the normal recommended limits.
You can see some of their conclusions below. It will give you a starting point to work out more accurately how much is right for you.
- Recommended: 14 to 17 hours
- May be appropriate: 11 to 13 hours / 18 to 19 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 11 hours / more than 19 hours
Children 6 to 13 years
- Recommended: 9 to 11 hours
- May be appropriate: 7 to 8 hours / 12 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 7 hours / more than 12 hours
Teenagers 14 to 17 years
- Recommended: 8 to 10 hours
- May be appropriate: 7 hours / 11 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 7 hours / more than 11 hours
Young adults 16 to 25 years
- Recommended: 7 to 9 hours
- May be appropriate: 6 hours / 10 to 11 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 6 hours / more than 11 hours
Adults 26 to 64 years
- Recommended: 7 to 9 hours
- May be appropriate: 6 hours / 10 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 6 hours / more than 10 hours
Older adults over 65 years
- Recommended: 7 to 8 hours
- May be appropriate: 5 to 6 hours / 9 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 5 hours / more than 9 hours
Why do some people need much less sleep?
If most adults need 7 to 9 hours, how is that some lucky people seem to manage on just 6 hours, or even less?
The answer might partly lie in the genetics of sleep needs. Unfortunately, it’s thought that only around 3% of people have the gene which lets them survive on little sleep.
So you’re probably in the 97% that need at least 7 hours per night to avoid the long-term consequences of sleep deprivation.
Is too much sleep bad?
Most people worry about not getting enough sleep. However, researchers have found that too much sleep can also be bad for your health.
Too much sleep can be associated with a higher risk of being overweight, diabetes or heart problems.
Work out the right amount of sleep for you personally
The medical guidance based on age isn’t very specific – how do you know if you need 7, 8 or 9 hours?
So it might be useful to work out how much sleep you personally need. And that means considering two questions:
- How much sleep do you need to survive?
- How much sleep do you need to function at your best and be happiest?
The answer to these two questions could be quite different. For example, you may think that you can scrape through the day if you’ve had 6 hours sleep.
But is 6 hours enough to work efficiently and be in a good mood all day?
Or does it turn you into a coffee fiend, and make you look forward to going back to bed from the minute you wake up?
Keep a manual sleep diary
An excellent way to work out your optimum sleep time is to keep a sleep diary. In it you should record 4 things each day:
- The time you fell asleep.
- The time you woke up.
- How long you slept for.
- How you felt the next day.
For the time you went to sleep, try to approximate when you fell asleep, not when you went to bed. It might be difficult if you’re restless in the dark for some time, but try to be as accurate as you can.
Look for patterns in your sleep and daytime functioning
After a couple of weeks, it’s time to analyze your diary for patterns. If you felt alert, energized, and able to do things well all day long, you probably slept enough the night before.
But if you felt any of the symptoms of sleep deprivation (see below), you might not have gotten enough the night or two before.
You can continue doing this for as long as you like. And over the weeks or months, you’ll get a clearer picture of the amount of sleep you need to aim for.
If you want more accurate information over a period of time, you could invest in a good sleep tracker. But it’s still good to keep a manual diary of how you felt each day.
You can find out about how they work, and what options you have, in the sleep tracker review.
Sleep deprivation symptoms to watch out for
It’s possible to experience sleep deprivation without realizing. When you complete your sleep diary, keep an eye out for these signs:
- Always needing an alarm clock to wake up, or using the snooze function a lot.
- Finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning.
- Feeling sleepy at work, in school or in warm environments.
- Feeling very tired after a heavy meal, in the afternoons or when driving.
- Being grumpy or irritable.
- Having difficulty concentrating, remembering things or making decisions.
- A change in appetite or weight gain.
- Being more accident prone.
- It only takes you a couple of minutes to fall asleep at night.
- Susceptible to colds and infections.
- Stressful things are difficult to cope with.
- Finding it hard to motivate yourself to do normal activities.
- Your reaction times are reduced.
There may, of course, be other explanations for some of these. But it’s still important to record them in the context of working out your sleep.
The key is to carefully check your diary to see if you only experience the symptoms on the days after having less sleep.
That will then be a good indicator that you’re not getting enough sleep on those days.
And hopefully, you’ll also start to see how many hours of sleep results in you writing ‘felt good all day’ in your diary!
Don’t panic if you’re not sleeping enough
Even though these guidelines exist, try not to panic if you don’t always get that optimum amount.
For example, if you’ve worked out that your golden number of hours sleep is exactly 8, then the temptation will be to start worrying when you only get 7.
The reality is that most people can function well with less sleep from time to time.
So on the nights when it takes you longer to fall asleep, try not to worry that the next day will be difficult. That thought will only keep you awake longer.
How much do you sleep?
How much sleep do you think you get on average, and how much do you think you need to be at your best? Feel free to leave a comment below.