How Much Sleep Do We Need?

How much should you sleep? | Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

Sleep is one of the most underrated aspects of health. But recent studies imply that if you want good health, sleep isn’t something that should be compromised. 

More and more studies are proving how many health issues are linked to a lack of sleep. Conditions like diabetes, hypertension, heart diseases, neurodegenerative disorders, and even the risk of cancer are associated with sleep deficiency. 

So how much sleep do you need?

How much sleep we need depends on many factors. But the current basic recommendations are as per age group. As per CDC’s recommendation, adults should sleep for at least 7 to 9 hours each night. Newborns, infants, children and teens need more sleep— 14 to 17 hours, 12 to 16 hours, 9 to 13 hours and 8-10 hours per 24 hours (i.e. including naps) respectively.  

In addition to the amount of sleep, the quality of the sleep also matters. If you are sleeping for 9 hours but your quality of sleep is not good enough, you will still feel tired in the morning. You will be fatigued and reach for more coffee than usual to get through the day— which is just another way to disturb your sleep. And this is how a lack of sleep further promotes behaviour that disturbs sleep even more. 

How Much Should You Sleep?

The CDC recommendation for sleep is as follows:

Age-GroupRecommended Hours of Sleep As Per CDC
Newborn (0 to 3monts)14 to 17 hours/24 hrs
Infant (4 to 12 months)12 to 16 hours/24 hrs
Toddler (1 to 2 years)11 to 14 hours/24 hrs
Pre-school (3 to 5 years)10 to 13 hours/24 hrs
School age (6 to 12 years) 9 to 12 hours/ 24 hrs
Teen (13 to 18 years)8 to 10 hours/24 hrs
Adult (18 to 60 years)7 or more hours per night
Adult (61 to 64 years).7 to 9 hours per night
Adult (65 years and older)7 to 8 hours per night
How much you should sleep as per CDC

But, here’s the thing: how much sleep you need depends on a variety of factors (discussed below), and these factors must be considered when you are figuring out exactly how much sleep you need.

These recommendations are prepared by the experts after reviewing hundreds of studies on sleep and its associations with health issues like cardiovascular diseases, brain health, etc. But two people of the same gender and age may require different amount of sleep to function well. Therefore, these recommendations have a range.

You should also keep in mind that you may need more sleep than recommended if you feel that the recommended amount of sleep is not working for you, i.e. it is not enough to make you feel well-rested and you can’t function well.

What Are The Factors That Can Affect Your Sleep Requirements?

Some of the factors that you should consider while deciding how much sleep you need are as follows: ‘

  • First and the most important thing is your age. Different age group requires a different amount of sleep. Children need more sleep for their growth and development, and as we age our requirement for sleep reduces. By the time we are adults, we need about 7-9 hours of sleep. 

  • If your work requires a lot of travelling or physical work, you’d likely need more time to get proper rest compared to others who mostly do a desk job. Similarly, if you have a strenuous workout routine, you may need more sleep than someone who prefers walking or less strenuous workouts. The more the physical activity during the day, the more sleep you’d need at night.
  • If you are currently sick or have undergone surgery, your body will need more rest than usual. This is because our body heals itself while we sleep, and that’s why during sickness, you must sleep well. If you are sick and feel like sleeping during the daytime, don’t hesitate to do so. Sleeping more than usual during sickness will help you heal faster.

  • If you have a health condition that affects your sleep— directly or indirectly—you may feel tired even with a 9-hour sleep. Sleep-related conditions like insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and sleep apnoea can affect your sleep quality and you may feel tired even after getting the recommended amount of sleep. Similarly, certain other conditions that may cause discomfort while you sleep, like orthopnoea (difficulty in breathing lying down), allergies or asthma could affect breathing at night and therefore, disturb your sleep. So, when you have any condition that is affecting your sleep, you must get it diagnosed and treated. Only then you can expect to have a good sleep. 

  • Pregnant women may need more sleep than usual. This increase in sleep requirement comes from hormonal changes as well as the growing fetus that may cause the mother to have discomfort and difficulty getting good quality sleep. 

  • Stress is another that is known to disturb your sleep. Therefore you must learn some de-stressing methods to keep stress under control.

  • How much caffeine and alcohol you are consuming also determines how good of sleep you’d have. Both of these agents can disturb sleep when taken too close to bedtime. You can read more about how caffeine disturbs our sleep here.
  • Lastly, another thing to consider is the fact that no two human beings are the same, even though they both are Homo sapiens. Your biological makeup may be such that you may need 9.5 to 10 hours of sleep to function well and feel rested. Also, women may need more sleep than men. 

So, keep in mind that we are all different and we shouldn’t compare our sleep patterns to someone else’s. 

If you wake up feeling fresh, without fatigue, and can function well throughout the day—physically and cognitively— you are getting enough sleep. If 7 hours of sleep is not doing it for you, you need more sleep.

What Happens If You Don’t Sleep Enough?

A lack of sleep is associated with:

  1. Reduced focus and concentration
  2. Fatigue
  3. Impaired judgment.
  4. Obesity
  5. Diabetes mellitus
  6. Cardiovascular diseases
  7. Anxiety
  8. Depression
  9. Impaired memory
  10. Reduced ability to handle stress
  11. Increased incidences of accidents.

…to name a few.

Do Naps Disturb Sleep? Or Are Naps Healthy?

Naps, when done correctly, can help you improve your focus, concentration and performance. In fact, if you’ve not slept well at night, naps can help you compensate for the lack of sleep.

However, if you do it too much or at the wrong time, it can disturb your sleep.

The recommended amount of nap time is about 20 minutes. A 20-minute nap refreshes your mind and improves focus. At 20-minutes, you don’t enter the deeper stage of sleep, so it’s easier to wake up and still feel fresh.

If you nap for a longer time, you will enter the deeper stages of sleep. It’s more difficult to wake up from deeper stages of sleep, and when the deeper stages of sleep are disrupted without completion, you wake up feeling groggy and drowsy. So, longer naps will defeat the whole purpose of napping.

However, if you have a little bit of time in your hand and need a physical and cognitive boost, small studies suggests that a 90 minute nap is the best for that purpose. You wake up feeling fresh after a 90 minute nap because you complete one whole cycle of sleep in about 90 minutes. But please make sure you are not napping for 90 minutes in the later half of the afternoon or in the evening, as that can affect your night time sleep.

So, for short naps, 20-30 minutes should be your goal, and for longer naps go for a full 90 minute nap.

Again, naps shouldn’t be taken late in the afternoon or the evening, as that can disrupt your nighttime sleep.

What Is Sleep Debt?

Yes, sleep debt is a thing.

When you don’t get enough sleep, over a period of time, you collect sleep debt. It’s the number of hours of sleep you slept less than you needed. The lack of sleep builds up over time as you don’t get enough sleep.

For example, if you need 8 hours of sleep to feel fully rested, but you only get 5 hours of sleep at night, you created 3 hours of sleep debt that night. Now, if you continue to do this for the next 5 days, you’ll have another 15 hours of sleep debt. A total of 18 hours of sleep debt you’ll create in 6 days. Meaning, you got 18 hours of less sleep than you need.

Now, this debt needs to be paid off— by sleeping, because if you don’t your normal functioning will be affected. The more the sleep debt, the worse your physical and mental function will be. 

When you don’t sleep enough, you create a sleep debt, that must be paid off by sleeping to function well in the present moment and to avoid many diseases in the future.

When you sleep in on the weekends, you are paying off this sleep debt However, sleeping well just on the weekends to compensate for the lost sleep is neither healthy nor enough.

The solution to this issue is to have a good sleep schedule that makes sleep a priority and not a luxury. Sleep is essential and we have to learn to respect this fact for better health.

How To Know If You Are Not Sleeping Enough?

Some of the physical and behavioural changes can help you notice that you are not getting enough sleep. They are as follows:

  • You find it difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep and/or find it difficult to fall asleep back again if you wake up in the middle of the night.
  • You wake up frequently at night.
  • You wake up feeling tired in the morning, or feel like going back to sleep in a couple of hours after waking up.
  • You reach for coffee or energy drink way too much. You can read more about this here.
  • You feel hungrier than usual. You can read more about it here.
  • You experience frequent morning headaches.
  • Your anxiety is getting worse and/or you are getting more frequent panic attacks (without any trigger).
  • You find it difficult to focus and get things done.
  • Your ability of handling stress is getting worse, or you get stressed easily.
  • You spend most of your weekends or off time sleeping in. Meaning, you have a lot of sleep debt.

How To Get Good Quality Sleep?

Some simple changes in your daily habits can help you improve your sleep pattern. 

  • Stop doing anything that stimulates your mind a couple of hours before sleep. Loud music, phones, laptops, TV, doing office work, and even exercising before bed can all end up stimulating your mind. This can potentially disturb your sleep. To avoid this, start winding down a couple of hours prior. You can do some soothing activities that calm your mind down. Things like journaling, listening to soothing music, reading a book and carrying out a self-care routine before bedtime will promote sleep.
  • Have a sleep schedule and stick to it. Sleep is important and you need to learn to prioritise it. Studies suggest that not only the quality and quantity of sleep is important, but even how regular your sleep schedule is determines your health. For example, people with irregular timings for going to bed and waking up are more likely to develop obesity when compared to people who sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Get any health issue that is affecting your sleep treated. This would be your first step to getting a night of good sleep.
  • Avoid too heavy meals at night. Also, avoid having dinner too close to bedtime. Studies suggest meals within 3 hours of sleep time disturb sleep. Additionally, meals too close to bedtime could promote acid reflux, which can further cause sleep disturbances.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bedtime. Both agents can disturb your sleep. You can read more about how caffeine affects sleep here.
  • Take a soothing bath 2 hours before sleeping. This reduces core body temperature, which in turn promotes sleep. This also helps you fall asleep faster.

So, What You Should Remember About Getting Enough Sleep

How much sleep you need depends on many factors. One of the most basic factors is your age. We need more sleep when we are young, and our sleep requirements go down as we grow old.

On average adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep. However, you may need more sleep naturally, or due to any other factors. How much sleep you may need may vary from person to person and depends on your general health status and lifestyle.

You continue to read more about how caffeine affects sleep here: Caffeine and Sleep: How Does Caffeine Affect Sleep?

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