The exact amount of sleep you need differs from person to person. And several factors all play an important role in determining how much sleep you’ll need to be at your best.
Factors that influence how much sleep you need:
- Your age
- Your health
- How physically and mentally active you are
- Your diet and other lifestyle choices
- Your genetics
- Sleep quality
A helpful starting point is to look at the general recommendations that sleep experts make based on your age.
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 thrive. And you’ll find out how to do that later in this article.
National Sleep Foundation Guidance based on age
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 assess the ideal sleep times. So this could be the best advice for many years to come.
For each age bracket, they have three defined total sleep times:
- May be appropriate for some individuals
- Not recommended
You can see a summary of their conclusions below.
Newborns (0-3 months)
- 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
Infants (4-11 months)
- Recommended: 12 to 15 hours
- May be appropriate: 10 to 11 hours / 16 to 18 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 10 hours / more than 18 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years)
- Recommended: 11 to 14 hours
- May be appropriate: 9 to 10 hours / 15 to 16 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 9 hours / more than 16 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years)
- Recommended: 10 to 13 hours
- May be appropriate: 8 to 9 hours / 14 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 8 hours / more than 14 hours
School-aged 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 (65 years and over)
- Recommended: 7 to 8 hours
- May be appropriate: 5 to 6 hours / 9 hours
- Not recommended: Less than 5 hours / more than 9 hours
How to work out the ideal sleep time for you personally
The sleep times guidance based on age is a useful starting point. But how can an adult be sure if 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10 hours is right for them?
There’s a big difference between 6 and 10 hours, especially as the years roll by. So it’s useful to work out how much sleep you personally need. And that means considering two questions:
- How much sleep do you need just to get through the day?
- 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?
Keep a manual sleep diary
An excellent way to work out your optimum sleep time is to keep a sleep diary. You can record 4 points each day:
- The time you fell asleep
- The time you woke up
- How much total sleep you believe you had
- 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, 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.
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 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.