How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?
Scientific research makes clear that sleep is essential at any age. Sleep powers the mind, restores the body, and fortifies virtually every system in the body. But how much sleep do we really need in order to get these benefits?
National Sleep Foundation guidelines1 advise that healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Babies, young children, and teens need even more sleep to enable their growth and development. People over 65 should also get 7 to 8 hours per night.
Knowing the general recommendations for how much sleep you need is a first step. Then It’s important to reflect on your individual needs based on factors like your activity level and overall health. And finally, of course, it’s necessary to apply healthy sleep tips so that you can actually get the full night’s sleep that’s recommended.
How Much Sleep is Recommended for Each Age Group?
The National Sleep Foundation’s recommended sleep times are broken down into nine age groups.
Age Range Recommended Hours of Sleep
Newborn 0-3 months old 14-17 hours
Infant 4-11 months old 12-15 hours
Toddler 1-2 years old 11-14 hours
Preschool 3-5 years old 10-13 hours
School-age 6-13 years old 9-11 hours
Teen 14-17 years old 8-10 hours
Young Adult 18-25 years old 7-9 hours
Adult 26-64 years old 7-9 hours
Older Adult 65 or more years old 7-8 hours
In each group, the guidelines present a recommended range of nightly sleep duration for healthy individuals. In some cases, sleeping an hour more or less than the general range may be acceptable based on a person’s circumstances.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
The National Sleep Foundation guidelines serve as a rule-of-thumb for how much sleep children and adults need while acknowledging that the ideal amount of sleep can vary from person to person.
For that reason, the guidelines list a range of hours for each age group. The recommendations also acknowledge that, for some people with unique circumstances, there’s some wiggle room on either side of the range for “acceptable,” though still not optimal, amount of sleep.
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Deciding how much sleep you need means considering your overall health, daily activities, and typical sleep patterns. Some questions that you help assess your individual sleep needs include:
Are you productive, healthy, and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or have you noticed that you require more hours of sleep to get into high gear?
Do you have coexisting health issues? Are you at higher risk for any disease?
Do you have a high level of daily energy expenditure? Do you frequently play sports or work in a labor-intensive job?
Do your daily activities require alertness to do them safely? Do you drive every day and/or operate heavy machinery? Do you ever feel sleepy when doing these activities?
Are you experiencing or do you have a history of sleeping problems?
Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
When you have an open schedule, do you sleep more than you do on a typical workday?
Start with the National Sleep Foundation recommendations and then use your answers to these questions to home in on your optimal amount of sleep.
How Were the National Sleep Foundation Recommendations Created?
To create these recommended sleep times, the National Sleep Foundation convened an expert panel of 18 people from different fields of science and medicine. The members of the panel reviewed hundreds of validated research studies about sleep duration and key health outcomes like cardiovascular disease, depression, pain, and diabetes.
After studying the evidence, the panel used several rounds of voting and discussion to narrow down the ranges for the amount of sleep needed at different ages. In total, this process took over nine months to complete.
Other organizations, such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society (SRS) have also published recommendations for the amount of sleep needed for adults2 and children3. In general, these organizations closely coincide with the National Sleep Foundation in their findings as do similar organizations in Canada4.
Improve Your Sleep Today: Make Sleep a Priority
Once you have a nightly goal based on the hours of sleep that you need, it’s time to start planning for how to make that a reality.
Start by making sleep a priority in your schedule. This means budgeting for the hours you need so that work or social activities don’t trade off with sleep. While cutting sleep short may be tempting in the moment, it doesn’t pay off because sleep is essential to being at your best both mentally and physically.
Improving your sleep hygiene, which includes your bedroom setting and sleep-related habits, is an established way to get better rest. Examples of sleep hygiene improvements include:
Sticking to the same sleep schedule every day, even on weekends.
Practicing a relaxing pre-bed routine to make it easier to fall asleep quickly.
Choosing a mattress that is supportive and comfortable and outfitting it with quality pillows and bedding.
Minimizing potential disruptions from light and sound while optimizing your bedroom temperature and aroma.
Disconnecting from electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops for a half-hour or more before bed.
Carefully monitoring your intake of caffeine and alcohol and trying to avoid consuming them in the hours before bed.
If you’re a parent, many of the same tips apply to help children and teens get the recommended amount of sleep that they need for kids their age. Pointers for parents can help with teens, specifically, who face a number of unique sleep challenges.
Getting more sleep is a key part of the equation, but remember that it’s not just about sleep quantity. Quality sleep matters5, too, and it’s possible to get the hours that you need but not feel refreshed because your sleep is fragmented or non-restorative. Fortunately, improving sleep hygiene often boosts both the quantity and quality of your sleep.
If you or a family member are experiencing symptoms such as significant sleepiness during the day, chronic snoring, leg cramps or tingling, difficulty breathing during sleep, chronic insomnia, or another symptom that is preventing you from sleeping well, you should consult your primary care doctor or find a sleep professional to determine the underlying cause.
You can try using the National Sleep Foundation Sleep Diary to track your sleep habits over a one- or two-week period. This can provide insight about your sleep patterns and needs. It can also be helpful to bring with you to the doctor if you have ongoing sleep problems.
1. Hirshkowitz, M., Whiton, K., Albert, S. M., Alessi, C., Bruni, O., DonCarlos, L., Hazen, N., Herman, J., Katz, E. S., Kheirandish-Gozal, L., Neubauer, D. N., O'Donnell, A. E., Ohayon, M., Peever, J., Rawding, R., Sachdeva, R. C., Setters, B., Vitiello, M. V., Ware, J. C., & Adams Hillard, P. J. (2015). National Sleep Foundation's sleep time duration recommendations: methodology and results summary. Sleep health, 1(1), 40–43.
2. Consensus Conference Panel, Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R. K., Martin, J. L., Patel, S. R., Quan, S. F., Tasali, E., Non-Participating Observers, Twery, M., Croft, J. B., Maher, E., … Heald, J. L. (2015). Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 11(6), 591–592.
3. Paruthi, S., Brooks, L. J., D'Ambrosio, C., Hall, W. A., Kotagal, S., Lloyd, R. M., Malow, B. A., Maski, K., Nichols, C., Quan, S. F., Rosen, C. L., Troester, M. M., & Wise, M. S. (2016). Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 12(6), 785–786.
4. Chaput, J. P., Dutil, C., & Sampasa-Kanyinga, H. (2018). Sleeping hours: what is the ideal number and how does age impact this?. Nature and science of sleep, 10, 421–430.
5. MedlinePlus [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); [updated 2020 Apr 30]. Healthy sleep; [updated 2020 Apr 30; reviewed 2017 Apr 26; cited 2020 Jun 18]. Available from: