America’s sleep debt is reaching epidemic proportions: Nearly a third of U.S. adults get six or fewer hours of rest each night, with sleep deprivation on the rise in recent years. Deficits in rest affect all age groups, from adolescents to older adults. And according to experts, the nation’s sleep troubles pose public health risks, from elevated rates of chronic illness to an increase in fatal car crashes.
How can you know if you’re getting the right amount of sleep to stay productive, happy and healthy? And if you need to increase your nightly sleep quantity, what are some effective ways to do so?
The answers to these questions will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Still, we can help you assess your own sleep needs and suggest some tips for better rest. In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about the amount of sleep you need – and we’ll share some ways to get it.
Healthy Sleep Quantities: The Right Amount of Rest
First, let’s address sleep’s real significance: If you rob your body of the chance to recover, you’ll likely experience physical and psychological consequences. While these impacts may not be immediate, sleep debt is typically unsustainable.
By the same token, however, building a massive sleep surplus isn’t prudent. It may be possible to over-indulge in the wonders of slumber, so it’s best to strike a balance.
Here are some of the potential health risks associated with getting the wrong amount of rest.
Getting Too Little Sleep
A lack of sleep is associated with a wide array of health problems, many of which are chronic and life-threatening. Sleep deficits can lead to cardiovascular challenges, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Obesity and diabetes are similarly linked to insufficient rest. Moreover, it’s common knowledge that fatigue creates immune vulnerabilities: When you run yourself ragged, you’re more likely to catch a cold or flu.
Sleep deficits can also precipitate mental health problems, or exacerbate existing challenges. Insufficient sleep can heighten depression or anxiety, while individuals with more severe psychiatric disorders can have serious reactions to sleep disruptions.
Additionally, sleepy individuals are far more likely to get into accidents, either behind their wheel or in their professional lives. Sleep-deprived drivers are much more likely to cause fatal crashes, while fatigued workers face higher odds of a job-site accident.
Getting Too Much Sleep
While it might seem tempting to get all the sleep you can, experts warn than an excessive amount of sleep may also prove problematic. One recent large-scale study found links between oversleeping and heart disease. A similar experiment recorded a troubling association between a surplus of sleep and metabolic issues, such as high blood pressure and fat around the waist.
The authors of these studies emphasize an important caveat, however: Correlation is not causation. The links they uncovered could be incidental; perhaps people with health issues tend to sleep more precisely because they’re unwell.
Still, too much time spent in bed can certainly detract from healthy pursuits, such as physical exercise. When it comes to getting rest, it seems you really can have too much of a good thing.
Consistency Is Key
In discussing the risks of too much or too little sleep, we should also emphasize the importance of a regular sleep routine. In many ways, maintaining a consistent sleep schedule is just as important as the total number of hours you spend in bed.
Researchers have consistently linked regular sleep patterns to lower rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. Scientists believe that erratic sleep schedules can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms, leading to a range of biological malfunctions.
Of course, life demands flexibility: We can’t be totally rigid about our bedtimes, lest we miss out on all kinds of rewarding experiences. But developing a relatively steady routine could vastly improve your odds of avoiding illness, especially as you get older. Pulling an all-nighter then sleeping the next day away? Leave that to college students.
How Much Sleep Do I Need?
Within the scientific community, there is some debate about the amount of sleep the average adult actually needs.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, most adults should sleep for seven or more hours per night. Other researchers suggest aiming for eight hours, while some scientists propose that eight and a half hours is a better ideal. The renown Mayo Clinic takes a compromise approach, suggesting a span of seven to nine hours nightly.
Additionally, these experts suggest that the ideal amount of sleep varies with age. Newborns and toddlers need tons of sleep, for example, as do growing adolescents. If you’re asking yourself, “How much sleep do I need?”, look no further. Here is how much sleep the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends for each age group:
|Age Group||Age Range||Recommended Hours of Sleep per Day|
|Infant||4–12 months||12–16 hours per day
|Toddler||1–2 years||11–14 hours per day
|Preschool||3–5 years||10–13 hours per day
|School Age||6–12 years||9–12 hours per day|
|Teen||13–18 years||8–10 hours per day|
|Adult||18–60 years||7 or more hours per day|
Personal Factors Affecting Recommended Amount of Sleep
Though the guidelines above provide a helpful baseline, they’re merely a starting point. Determining how much sleep you personally need is a far more nuanced process, reflecting many individual and biological variables.
Experts agree that sleep needs vary greatly among healthy human beings and that the ideal amount can change over time. Many of these differences are genetically determined, and new research is uncovering some of the biological mechanisms that allow certain individuals to function well on relatively little sleep.
Generally, scientists suggest paying attention to your own body and adding sleep when you feel fatigued. Feelings of fatigue are easy to push aside, but your health may suffer if you dismiss your body’s demands.
In determining your nightly sleep goals, however, remember that not all sleep is equally restorative. Unfortunately, many people get at least seven hours of sleep each night and still feel exhausted in the morning.
In these cases, sleeping longer might not be the answer: They could be struggling with a sleep disorder or other medical issue. If you find yourself in this situation, it may be worth discussing your experience with a sleep specialist. Before you approach an expert, however, try bringing up your sleep struggles with your primary care provider; he or she can identify any obvious red flags and rule out common causes of sleep troubles.
Getting the Sleep You Need: Practical Tips for Super Slumbers
Given the information we’ve covered so far, you may be eager to increase the amount of rest you’re getting nightly. Unfortunately, doing so may prove more difficult than you expect.
First, you’ll need to carve out more time to rest, balancing your need for sleep against the demands of work and family. In our highly programmed lives, prioritizing sleep can mean some tough sacrifices.
But even when you allot sufficient time to a good night’s sleep, high-quality slumber can be surprisingly elusive. You may find yourself lying awake in bed, wondering why you can’t get the sleep you supposedly need. Worse still, you may experience poor sleep quality, in which case adding hours will hardly help.
Thankfully, a few simple adjustments can translate to major sleep improvements. Below, we’ll cover concrete steps you can take to get the rest of the right quantity and quality.
Set a Regular Sleep Schedule
As we mentioned earlier, a steady sleep regimen can work wonders, both in terms of keeping you energized and keeping illness at bay. Once you set your sleep goals, identify a consistent bedtime for yourself and stick to it as much as possible. If necessary, set an alarm to remind you it’s time to hit the sack.
Unfortunately, consistent sleep may require you to sacrifice certain pleasures, such as taking naps in the afternoon or sleeping in on the weekends. While these unscheduled slumbers may feel great at the time, they’ll probably undermine your sleep routine in the long run.
Exercise – at the Right Times
Multiple studies show that physical activity can help you sleep better: A good workout can wear you out in all the right ways, preparing you for restorative rest. But the connection between sleep and exercise is actually quite nuanced, especially in terms of the timing of your physical activity.
Indeed, exercise can be activating: After a solid sweat, it can take hours for your body to fully wind down. Post-workout, your heart rate and body temperature can remain elevated for some time, generating a state of residual alertness.
Accordingly, experts recommend wrapping up your exercise at least two to three hours before you head to bed. By bedtime, your body should be fully prepared for some rest and relaxation.
Reconsider Certain Substances
Just as caffeine gets you going in the morning, it can keep your body whirring long after you wish to wind down. Some experts and scientists warn against consuming caffeinated beverages of any kind after 2 p.m. Otherwise, latent caffeine levels in your system will prevent you from dozing off and inhibit your sleep cycle. Additionally, try to keep your total caffeine consumption below 400 milligrams daily.
Other researchers, however, suggest that nicotine may be even more problematic. One recent study found that nicotine could undermine solid sleep to a greater extent than caffeine, especially for participants who smoked close to their bedtimes.
Booze may also be bad news: Alcohol can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythms and suppress the production of melatonin, a key chemical for sleep. While getting tipsy may make you temporarily sleepy, drinking can cause serious sleep issues in the long run.
Avoid Big Meals Before Bedtime
This tip may seem counterintuitive: After a decadent meal, most of us feel pretty sluggish. Wouldn’t a “food coma” help you slumber successfully?
Actually, experts suggest eating two to three hours before you go to bed, allowing ample time for digestion. If you crash before your body processes your last meal, you could experience heartburn or other unpleasant symptoms. This discomfort can lead to sleep problems, especially if you consume something spicy.
If you’re starving before bedtime, however, skipping a meal probably isn’t your best bet. Opt for a balanced, modestly-sized meal or snack to tide you over until morning. By the same token, avoid sugary treats that could lead to a poorly timed energy spike.
Detach from Devices
Sorry bedtime scrollers: Using your phone or tablet before going to bed could be compromising your sleep quality. Sleep scientists find that digital devices interfere with sleep in several ways, from delaying the body’s circadian rhythms to shortening the REM stage of rest.
If you’re intent on getting more sleep, try putting down your phone and other devices an hour before you head to bed. If that step sounds too extreme, you could try turning down the brightness on your gadgets instead.
Create a Sleep Sanctuary
If you struggle to drift off to sleep, your surroundings could be to blame. A messy room may create a sense of ambient anxiety, while intrusive lights from outside can also keep you up. Thankfully, small adjustments to your bedroom’s feng shui can make falling asleep much easier.
Start by evaluating the surfaces around your bed: Keep your nightstands uncluttered to create a sense of calm. Next, take a look at the amount of light entering your bedroom. Would another set of shades block out illumination from streetlights or the early-morning sun? For the same reason, consider shifting the placement of your bed. If your bed is backed up against a window, you’re more likely to be disturbed by light from outside.
Find Your Mattress Match
Last but not least, the quantity and quality of your sleep will have a lot to do with the bed beneath you. The mattress industry has rapidly evolved and expanded in recent years, offering consumers a wide array of types and technologies. If your mattress is aging or uncomfortable, buying a new one suited to your needs could be a great investment.
But with options comes indecision: With so many alternatives available, how can you settle on the best possible mattress within your budget? You can start by checking out our mattress reviews and rankings, with suggestions tailored to all kinds of sleepers.
We hope this guide helps you determine how much sleep you need to stay happy and healthy. Armed with the techniques we’ve presented, you’re well on your way to getting better rest. With the right amount of shut-eye each night, you’ll enjoy more success in the daylight.