When you’re struggling to drop off, or if you’re battling the demands of work and home life, you can find yourself wondering how much sleep you can get away with. Is it okay to have just four or five hours or must you get a solid eight or nine hours every night?
If you’re suffering from insomnia or just the demands of a newborn baby, you may be wondering – how much sleep do you need?
No matter what your circumstances, we’ve answered that question and given you all the information and facts you need to make sure you get the right amount of sleep every night.
How Much Sleep Do You Need on Average?
This is a difficult question to answer as the amount of sleep a person needs depends on a lot of different factors like age, health and lifestyle.
Many people think staying up through the night to get work finished or to meet a deadline means they are being more productive but the science shows the opposite is true.
Without enough sleep, you are sluggish and impaired which means you work slower and make more mistakes. So, next time you’re struggling on a project, take yourself to bed and get some sleep. You’ll wake up refreshed and more creative – producing better work in the long run!
There is also a difference between the amount of sleep you actually need and the amount that is recommended for you to work at your best. While you can survive on fewer hours sleep, that is only a short-term solution and you should aim to get the optimum amount.
You might be able to carry on with only six or seven hours sleep for a few days but over time this will take its toll and you should be spending more time resting.
Some inherited factors like your genes can also affect how many hours of sleep you need to function at your best.
Why is Sleep So Important?
The simple fact is the quality and length of your sleep can affect your day to day life. Have you ever felt yourself feeling “fuzzy”? Or struggling to remember things and carry out technical tasks? Instead of searching for an elusive cure, try setting yourself a challenge to get more sleep and see if that works.
A lack of sleep can affect your mental and physical health. It can stop your immune system working properly, put pressure on your heart and even affect your emotions.
Sleep isn’t just a time to rest your muscles, it gives your brain time to work. Rather than “switching off” your brain uses this rest time to carry out vital functions and oversees the maintenance of your body. Think of it like a car, you’d give it a service every now and then to make sure it is running at top condition so that is the same with your brain and your body.
Without enough hours of sleep, your brain won’t be able to maintain your body properly and things will start to change. You might find your motor skills become impaired and you aren’t feeling as creative as usual.
Prolonged periods of no or little sleep can lead to serious mental health problems and you could find yourself breaking down mentally as well as physically.
Not getting enough sleep can cause health issues and heightens the risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
How Much Sleep Do You Need by Age?
Sleep time does vary from person to person but it also varies by age. If you have a newborn baby you will know this amount can fluctuate wildly. While you may have a friend whose child sleeps for 17 hours a day you could be struggling with a child that takes several catnaps and only sleeps for about 12 hours.
Healthy adults need between seven to nine hours to be at their best as described above but how much sleep do we need as we grow and get older?
A newborn baby should be getting at least 14 and up to 17 hours of sleep per day. This is often broken up into smaller chunks due to the needs for feeding and changing.
As a baby gets older, at four months old they will start sleeping for slightly shorter times. Between four and 11 months, your child should be sleeping between 12 and 15 hours a day.
The tricky thing with children is that sometimes they might start sleeping for 14 hours as a newborn and actually need more sleep as they grow. It is not an exact science!
A child between the ages of one and two years old should be getting about 11 to 14 hours sleep. This is a good time to introduce an afternoon nap and then try to get your baby to sleep through for eight to ten hours overnight.
At three to five years old, your baby needs ten to 13 hours sleep. Again, they might be still happy to sleep overnight and then take a nap in the afternoon. As they start school, the amount of sleep they need could increase as they are challenged physically and mentally.
At six to 13 years old, your child should be getting just a little longer than the average adult at nine to 11 hours.
A teenager should be aiming for eight to ten hours. You might find teenagers sleep a little longer than this!
All adults should be getting their seven hours or more per night but as you get into retirement age you might find it harder to sleep for longer.
A person aged over 65 only really needs seven or eight hours sleep but sometimes a nap in the day can help make up some missed hours if it is difficult to sleep overnight.
How Much Sleep Do Humans Need?
You might see your dog snoozing away all afternoon or think your pet cat seems to spend most of their time napping and wonder what the exact amount of sleep a human needs is.
While I’m sure many of us would happily stay in bed if we didn’t have the pressures of work or childcare, the average adult only gets about seven hours a night.
This might seem a lot but over time you will be missing out on vital relaxation and repair time. On average, a human needs between seven and nine hours of sleep a night.
Through evolution, humans have evolved to need less sleep than any other primate. The trick with humans is although we sleep for a shorter time than our ape cousins, our sleep is deeper.
The move from sleeping up in the tree canopy to sleeping on the ground has also aided this deeper, more restful sleep. I mean, it makes sense considering we wouldn’t have to stay alert to falling from trees.
Humans spend the most time in a deep sleep which means they sleep deeper than any other primate. This is what makes us able to survive on shorter periods of sleep compared to other primates.
Check related article about How Electronics and Technology Affect Sleep Quality
How Much Deep Sleep Do You Need a Night?
It isn’t just the amount of time you spend in bed that is important, it is the quality of the sleep you’re getting while you’re tucked up.
There are different stages of sleep which are all needed to help you rest fully and feel prepared for the day ahead. But deep sleep is the most important as it is this time when the body repairs itself and builds up energy.
Deep sleep is defined as the period of sleep where your heartbeat and breathing is at its slowest. Your body completely relaxes and your hardly move at all. This is the point of your sleep where you don’t dream at all, your brain is busy repairing and maintaining parts of your body!
It is also known as delta sleep or slow wave sleep. It is the last stage in your sleep cycle and the most important. If you find yourself waking up sluggish even though you’ve been in bed for seven or eight hours you may not have had enough deep sleep.
A newborn baby can affect the quality of your sleep as becoming a new parent can make you hypervigilant! This can lead your body to only allowing light sleep in case you need to be on hand for your child.
Why Do We Sleep Longer in Winter?
Have you ever found yourself struggling to get out of bed on a cold, dark winter’s morning? Most people identify with the feeling of “just five more minutes” as you pull the duvet over your head.
It isn’t just the cold that keeps us under the blankets though, your brain is actually preparing for sleep earlier.
As the amount of sunlight we see during the day decreases, your brain starts to produce more of the hormone melatonin. This is the hormone that regulates your body’s sleep cycle.
This means as the sun sets earlier, your body starts to prepare you for sleep earlier. You might find yourself yawning or feeling sleepy a good few hours before your usual “bedtime”.
At the opposite end of the day, it can be hard for your body to wake up when it is still dark outside as your brain is convinced it is nighttime and you should be asleep!
Lack of sunlight through the winter can also cause SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)
It’s not just the lack of natural light; the cold does have something to do with your sleepiness.
Heating can change the way you sleep. When you’re cold, the production levels of melatonin in our bodies slows down, which can then cause us to feel exhausted and become more susceptible to colds and flus.
Another thing that affects our sleep patterns in winter is our eating habits. It is easy to reach for stodgy, carbohydrate rich foods to fill us with warmth.
But eating too much sugary, fatty or calorific foods can disrupt your body’s supply of leptin which is another hormone that regulates sleep.
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How Much Sleep Do I Need to Lose Weight?
Scientists have long studied the link between a lack of sleep and weight gain. There are several reasons behind why people who don’t get the right amount of hours every night will put on weight, but the most common is another hormone.
Not getting enough sleep increases the level of cortisol in your bloodstream. This hormone increases your appetite making you feel hungry all the time.
The less sleep you have, the higher the concentration of this hormone and the more you feel like you could eat and eat!
You might have been on diets, taken up exercise and still find it hard to lose weight. It can be particularly highlighted if you and a friend are following the same diet and fitness regime but seeing different results.
While different people’s genetics and metabolism affect the way they lose weight, it might be worth checking your sleep patterns.
Not having enough sleep makes it harder for you to lose weight so after you hit the gym you should follow these steps to make sure you are giving yourself the best chance at weight loss.
- Going to bed earlier stops late night snacking
- Your body burns calories while you are sleeping
- Buy healthier food so if you’re tempted to snack it will only be on low calorie foods
- Sleep deprived people don’t control their portions well
- Focusing your brain through sleep makes sure you are staying on target while you’re awake.
How Much Sleep Do You Need to Survive?
While this article is based on making sure you get the right amount of sleep to help you perform at your best at work and home, it might be difficult for you to actually get the recommended amount.
So just how much sleep do we need to stay alive? Scientists have tested how long humans can survive without air (about three minutes), how long a person can go without water (three days) and even how long someone can last without food (three weeks).
But when it comes to sleep, not as much research has been done.
Even one night of no sleep can have the same effect on the human body as being drunk. The longest anyone has ever stayed awake was about 11 days which was done for a school project (really!) in 1965.
Despite all the health problems listed above, no human has ever died from not having enough sleep alone. The problems are when someone develops other health complications through a lack of sleep.
A pretty horrible experiment on rats in 1999 did actually see the creatures die after two weeks of being kept awake.
Even people with sleep disorders manage to get a few hours every night.
How Much Sleep Do I Need During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy takes it out of you physically and mentally. So you might find yourself needing to sleep more often or for longer.
Expecting a baby affects every woman differently, while some “glow” in their first trimester others can be left drowsy, nauseous and facing exhaustion.
The rising progesterone in a woman’s body can lead to fatigue and many women find they are needing a nap mid-afternoon.
In the first trimester, there is also a drop in the quality of sleep. Women get less time in their “deep sleep” part of the cycle which can lead to exhaustion.
The general recommendation is for a pregnant woman to get an extra 45 minutes to an hour of sleep per night. Plus, you should be getting prepared for a few years of sleepless nights once baby arrives!
Some tips include:
- Sleep on your left side to make sure blood and nutrients gets to baby
- Put in a nightlight in case you do get up in the night
- Eat bland food to help sickness
- Nap when, where and as often as you can!
How Much Sleep Do Babies Need by Age?
Babies need a lot more sleep than adults, as we explained above but what are the affects of not having enough sleep?
Even just missing 30 minutes of sleep can negatively impact your child as they are at a critical stage of their development.
Have you ever heard the expression “overtired”? Well this is when a baby tends to become more awake and alert instead of drowsy as an adult would be.
This is what makes it so hard to tell if your baby is sleepy because they seem more awake than ever. Children may pretend they are not tired, fight sleep and get more and more hyperactive.
Sometimes ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is wrongly diagnosed when in fact this is a child that has not had enough sleep.
Some recent research has shown children can suffer from sleep apnea – where a person wakes up briefly several times through the night as they struggle to breathe.
If your child is struggling to get to sleep, try moving their bedtime to 30 minutes earlier and using this as “quiet time” to stop looking at screens and have a bath or a bedtime story before going to bed.
How Much Sleep Do You Really Need to Work Productively?
There are so many articles out there claiming that you can be super productive and get more done by cutting out sleep.
With the average adult sleeping for 24 years in their lifetime, it can seem attractive to cut this down and get some more exciting things in rather than sleeping.
Sleep researcher Daniel Kripke says most happy, productive people sleep between 6.5 and 7.5 hours every night. He says sleeping for too long can be just as damaging as not sleeping enough.
We’ve all been told that eight hours is the right amount of sleep, but it is actually more important to sleep between seven and nine hours and listen to your body.
Some people will be at their best with an exact seven hours sleep while others may need every second of nine hours to feel like they can face the day. There is no wrong or right answer, make sure you get at least seven hours and then pay attention to how your body reacts.
How Much Sleep Do You Need to Be Healthy?
A 2010 experimental sleep study proved that forcing yourself to stay awake for longer than 24 hours and the exact same results as someone who had a BAC (blood alcohol level) of 0.1, which happens to be way above the legal limit in regards to driving while under the influence. That just goes to show, staying awake for longer than a day can have life threatening consequences.
So sleeping for short periods, or not at all, could lead you to crashing your car in the short term and over a longer periods it could cause health problems.
How Much REM Sleep Do You Need to Get a Night?
When we hit the bed each night, our minds and bodies don’t just fall into a state of sleep and stay that way until we awake. There’s actually several different stages that our bodies have to go through before we enter the really deep rest we need. And the way we go through this process will determine the quality of rest you get.
Once we go to bed, after about 60-90 minutes afterward, we begin to enter into what’s called REM (Rapid Eye Movement). This is usually the time when we are in a super deep sleep and we begin to dream vividly. Basically, it’s the part when our bodies are completely asleep, we’re totally unconscious, yet our brains are still quite active. Hence the dreaming.
Most people go through at least 3-5 sessions of REM each and every night. That means, once a period of REM is done, the whole cycle begins again. This is when we’re easily woken up in the middle of the night, when the cycle is resetting.
If you’re finding yourself short on REM sleep, you can have an extra 30 minutes in the morning as this is the time when REM sleep is usually longest.
Getting enough REM sleep boosts your mood and also helps your mind.
How Much Sleep Do You Need Before a Test?
Staying up all night cramming for an exam can seem like a tempting idea. Surely, you’ll remember it better and do well if you’ve spent all night awake reading the subject?
Well actually the opposite is true. Sleep is as important to learning as exercise is to stamina. Without sleep, your brain has no time to process the new information and make sense of it properly.
Taking time to sleep before an exam can actually improve your grades and put you in the right mindset for the test.
You should make sure you get at least seven hours of solid sleep before an exam and put the revision down in plenty of time before bed.
Take time to:
- Turn off your computer at least an hour before bed
- Use an eye mask and earplugs to sleep soundly
- Exercise early in the day before an exam
- Try not to nap
- Cut down on caffeine and alcohol
How Does Temperature Affect Our Sleep?
Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night in a scramble to tear the blankets off and release some of the heat trapped within the sheets? That’s’ because our bodies are programmed to sleep better with a certain temperature.
That’s right. The temperature in your room plays a major part in the quality of rest you get each night. Too warm or too cold can throw it all off.
Usually, for most, a nice temperature range of 60-67 degrees Fahrenheit is the ideal. This will keep your body’s core temp at a nice, comfortable level all night long and won’t pull you out of the dream world.
But why, you ask? Why is that we need to be cooler during the evening in order to get a good night’s rest? Because our bodies naturally lower our temperatures as we sleep. It keeps decreasing as you float through the different phases of deep rest. So, if you’re too hot, you’ve got too many heavy blankets, or your room’s thermostat is up too high, your body won’t be able to lower itself into that rest-mode.
You may want to read: Everything You Need to Know About a Sleep Cycle Calculator
So hopefully this list has now answered once and for all how much sleep you need. Next time you’re setting your alarm for the next morning or lying awake trying to get some rest, hopefully the tips in this article will come in useful.
Remember you need all stages of sleep to feel healthy and around seven to nine hours is the best length of time to sleep.
For children, babies and older people this differs but the most important thing is to listen to your own body.
If you’ve got any more tips, please comment below and don’t forget to share this article.