While almost everyone has heard about the importance of sleep, it can be difficult to know exactly how much sleep is necessary. The National Sleep Foundation recommends between seven and nine hours of sleep every day for most adults, which means that seven hours is just enough for the majority of people.
However, for some people, seven hours is not sufficient. Teenagers, children, and babies need more sleep, and some adults also need more than seven hours.
We discuss the recommended hours of sleep by age, the importance of sleep quality in addition to sleep quantity, the effects and causes of insufficient sleep, and practical tips to enhance nightly rest.
Recommended Hours of Sleep by Age
People’s sleep needs change as they age. Babies typically need 12 or more hours of sleep a day, including naps, for healthy development. As they grow, toddlers and young children require less nighttime sleep and fewer naps, but they still typically need 10 or more hours of sleep each day.
By school age, most children are recommended to get 9 to 11 hours of sleep each day. Most teenagers should sleep at least eight hours per day, but some teens will need more sleep to be at their best.
Most adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. In people over the age of 65, experts recommend 7 to 8 hours of sleep each day.
While these recommendations outline how much sleep most people in each age group need, individuals’ sleep needs will vary. Seven hours may not be enough sleep for some adults to feel refreshed. In addition, people who are sleep deprived or who have fragmented sleep may need extra rest to make up for lost sleep.
On the other hand, some people are naturally short sleepers who feel alert and healthy with less than six hours of sleep per night. For short sleepers, seven hours may be excessive.
While people should consider the expert recommendations, they should also pay attention to their own bodies’ needs and consult with their doctor about their sleep patterns and how much sleep is necessary for them.
Sleep Basics: Quality vs. Quantity
Refreshing sleep is about more than just sleeping a certain number of hours. Sleep quality is also essential.
Good sleep is important for growth, recovery, learning, memory, immunity, a strong heart, and healthy blood vessels. However, people whose sleep is frequently interrupted may not get the full benefits of sleep.
Because it can be easily represented by a single number, it is natural to focus on sleep quantity. But even this seemingly straightforward number is not always easy to objectively determine because many people struggle to really know how much sleep they get. For example, some people may not accurately distinguish between time spent in bed and actual time spent asleep.
Sleep quality can be even more challenging for individuals to determine since how alert or drowsy they feel during the day is a form of subjective self-assessment. People are often unaware of brief sleep disruptions that affect sleep quality, and this may contribute to feeling unrefreshed even after getting the recommended amount of sleep.
Why Would Someone Feel Tired if They Slept All Night?
It is possible to feel tired even after sleeping all night because of sleep interruptions. However, many people are not aware that their sleep was disrupted.
Even just a handful of awakenings that last only a few seconds each may be enough to erode sleep quality. In many cases, sleepers have no recollection of these temporary arousals.
Sometimes sleep disruptions involve a short awakening with a prompt return to the same stage of the sleep cycle. In other cases, sleep disruptions involve a sudden shift from deep sleep to lighter sleep.
Deep sleep is important to feeling refreshed. People who have many arousals from sleep may spend less time in deep sleep. As a result, they may feel sluggish and experience substandard mental performance during the day.
These issues reinforce the need for sleep quality and demonstrate how sleep fragmentation can induce symptoms of sleep deprivation even after sleeping for seven hours or longer.
Is It Normal to Have Daytime Sleepiness?
It is normal to have periods of tiredness during the day, especially in the afternoon. However, daytime drowsiness may be a problem if it causes a person to fall asleep when they should be awake or if it detracts from their work, school, or social life. When this occurs, it is known as excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).
Between 10% and 25% of people are estimated to experience excessive daytime sleepiness. EDS may be caused by a sleep disorder, another physical or mental condition, or certain types of medications.
Signs and symptoms of EDS include feeling too tired to function, unintentionally falling asleep, and having difficulty remembering things that happen during the day. EDS may also manifest as drowsy driving, which is characterized by repeated yawning, lack of attention to surroundings, or difficulty holding one’s head up or keeping eyes open when behind the wheel.
Excessive sleepiness is different from temporarily feeling groggy right after waking up, which is called sleep inertia. Ordinarily, sleep inertia wears off quickly, but if it lasts longer than a half hour, it may be a sign of insufficient sleep.
For any individual, it is important to determine whether daytime sleepiness is normal or a problem. Anyone with concerns about daytime drowsiness or issues staying awake through the day should talk with their doctor.
The Impact of Getting Only 7 Hours of Sleep
For most adults, there is no known negative impact to getting seven hours of sleep. But given that seven hours is the minimum that is recommended, sleeping only this amount does not leave much margin for difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep.
In addition, sleeping for seven hours may be too little for people who ordinarily need eight or more hours of sleep to fully function. Even a single night of sleep deprivation can result in short-term effects such as:
- Irritable mood
- Difficulty concentrating and doing mental tasks
- Impaired judgment
- Motor vehicle accidents and workplace mistakes
If insufficient sleep occurs regularly, the negative impacts can build up. Loss of as little as an hour or two of sleep a night over multiple nights can have similar effects as going entirely without sleep for a full day. Long-term sleep loss has been linked to several mental and physical health conditions, including:
In addition, sleep is important for growth, muscle building, and hormone production. Chronic sleep loss can harm these important functions in children, teens, and adults.
Why We Are Not Getting Enough Sleep
There are many reasons why people may not get enough sleep. Some people are unable to get the sleep that they need because of school, work, or family demands. Others choose to delay bedtime to allow time for entertainment or social activities.
Sometimes sleeping well is challenging because of noises, lights, or other distractions in the bedroom. Mental stimulation and blue light from use of cell phones, tablets, and other electronics before bedtime can make it difficult to fall asleep. Caffeine and nicotine as well as a number of medications may also interfere with sleep.
Many physical and mental health conditions can make it hard to get enough quality sleep. Some people are unable to sleep due to insomnia, sleep apnea, or another sleep disorder.
People should speak with their doctors if they suspect they have difficulty sleeping due to a physical condition, mental health condition, or a sleep disorder.
How to Get Enough Sleep
An initial step toward getting better sleep is identifying individual sleep needs. While expert recommendations are helpful tools, some people need more or less sleep to feel alert and energized during the day.
People wondering whether they get enough sleep should consider how long they sleep when they do not have to wake up for work or otherwise set an alarm. They can also honestly consider whether they feel well-rested throughout the day. Based on these reflections, they can set a nightly sleep goal and make sure to budget enough time to sleep for that amount of time.
People who suspect they do not get enough sleep can implement steps to improve their sleep.
- Keep a consistent sleep and wake schedule: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on days without work or other responsibilities.
- Exercise regularly: Studies have found that regular daytime exercise helps people fall asleep faster and improves both sleep quality and sleep quantity. However, watch out for overstimulation from intense exercise right before bedtime.
- Avoid long or late naps: Naps lasting over one hour or that happen in the late afternoon can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime.
- Limit sleep-disrupting substances: Caffeine, nicotine, and heavy meals can make it difficult to fall asleep. While alcohol may cause drowsiness, it can also erode sleep quality.
- Have a calming bedtime routine: Start winding down an hour or two before bedtime and turn off electronics at least a half hour before going to sleep. Relaxing activities, such as reading or taking a bath, help foster the right mood for sleep.
- Test out relaxation techniques: Meditation, deep breathing, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can help reduce stress and enhance calmness before bed.
- Have a sleep-friendly bedroom: A dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool sleeping environment is best for sleep.
- Do not lie awake in bed: When unable to fall asleep for 20 minutes, get up, leave the bedroom, and do something calming for a while before going back to bed to try to get to sleep.
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