Everybody knows that getting a good night’s sleep is important. Even without facts and figures to guide us, the feeling of trying to slog through a day (or several days) after insufficient sleep is enough to tell us that without proper rest, our bodies don’t get what they need to function at peak efficiency. So what is the right amount of sleep? It turns out that there is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question.
Most people, if asked, would say that everyone needs to get eight hours of sleep a night. Contrary to this common belief, experts have found that the optimal amount of sleep varies not only from person to person, but also according to how old you are. At any age, getting too little sleep and getting too much sleep are associated with poorer health—however, instead of a single figure for how much sleep you should be aiming for, there is a range of what is considered a healthy amount of slumber.
The National Sleep Foundation, based on extensive research, has identified ranges of proper sleep for key developmental stages. In general, the younger you are, the more sleep you need. Their recommendations are:
Newborn (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
Infant (4-11 months): 12-15 hours each day
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours each day
Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours each day
School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours each day
Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours each day
Younger adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours each day
Adult (26-64 years): 7-9 hours each day
Older adults (65+ years): 7-8 hours each day
Especially for young children, the total amount of sleep is likely to include daytime naps. For most adults, there’s a two-hour range of what is considered a typically healthy amount of sleep, which means if you get more sleep one night and less another it’s nothing to be concerned about, as long as you’re generally falling within the overall range.
Even these recommendations are not set in stone, though. The National Sleep Foundation recognizes that some individuals may need more or less sleep than is generally recommended—for example, you may have a preschooler who gets by just fine on 9 hours of sleep. While the numbers are a useful guideline, quantity of sleep is only one factor to consider when you’re deciding how much rest you need.
The true test of how much sleep you need is how you feel during the day. If you feel alert, productive, and energetic on seven hours of sleep per night, then you don’t need to worry about increasing the time you spend in bed. However, if you’re sleeping eight hours and still waking up groggy, then perhaps you aren’t getting enough rest. You also need to evaluate the quality of rest you’re getting—a night spent tossing and turning will not have the same restorative benefits as one where you drop off to sleep quickly and spend your hours in blissful slumber.
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