How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?

Learn how much sleep is enough (or too much) and why you should care

By Alesandra Woolley

Sleep is more important than we like to believe, despite the fact that many of us feel we can “power through” periods of little to none of it.

We’ve all done it, whether it’s been studying for finals, long-distance travel, work deadlines, or that one time insomnia got the best of you.

Recent research, however, has shown just how dangerous and damaging insufficient sleep can be. A report by the National Sleep Foundation claims that getting on the road after 24 hours of sleeplessness results in similar performance as someone with a BAC of .10 – which is about one drink over the legal limit.

This is all in addition to the laundry list of harmful health effects of sleep deprivation such as increased risk of obesity and heart disease, reduced immune function and shorter life expectancy. Yeesh.

Sleeping girl with alarm clock

Settling your debt with the Sandman

What’s even worse is that the idea of sleep debt – the thought that we can “pay off” a few sleepless nights with extra sleep later on down the line – is just wishful thinking. The American Journal of Physiology published a study that revealed while “catch-up” sleep following a period of sleep deprivation helped reduce things like daytime fatigue and inflammation marker levels, it didn’t fix everything.

One of the most obvious side effects of sleep deprivation is difficulty paying attention throughout the day. Researchers found that attention problems present during the deprivation period continued into the recovery period. This consequence of sleep loss pays a large part of the $411 billion in productivity losses due to sleep deprivation that the US deals with each year.

Now that we’ve established just how important sleep is, how much of it do we actually need?

Your optimal sleep duration, in handy-dandy chart form

The National Sleep Foundation recently released revised guidelines for how much sleep we need. In an update of their previous guidelines, the NSF added two new age categories, updated their sleep duration ranges and added a “may be appropriate” section in addition to the “recommended” hours.

See below for the recommended hours of sleep for each age category.

Age Recommended May be appropriate Not recommended
0-3 months
14 to 17 hours 11 to 13 hours
18 to 19 hours
Less than 11 hours
More than 19 hours
4-11 months
12 to 15 hours 10 to 11 hours
16 to 18 hours
Less than 10 hours
More than 18 hours
1-2 years
11 to 14 hours 9 to 10 hours
15 to 16 hours
Less than 9 hours
More than 16 hours
3-5 years
10 to 13 hours 8 to 9 hours
14 hours
Less than 8 hours
More than 14 hours
School-aged Children
6-13 years
9 to 11 hours 7 to 8 hours
12 hours
Less than 7 hours
More than 12 hours
14-17 years
8 to 10 hours 7 hours
11 hours
Less than 7 hours
More than 11 hours
Young Adults
18-25 years
7 to 9 hours 6 hours
10 to 11 hours
Less than 6 hours
More than 11 hours
26-64 years
7 to 9 hours 6 hours
10 hours
Less than 6 hours
More than 10 hours
Older Adults
≥ 65 years
7 to 8 hours 5 to 6 hours
9 hours
Less than 5 hours
More than 9 hours

While getting too little sleep may come with its obvious issues, getting too much sleep can be bad for your health too. A study with 400,000 participants revealed that people who slept more than eight hours and less than four hours each night carried the same risk of coronary heart disease (CHD).

So as long as I get my recommended hours of sleep I’m fine, right? 

Well, maybe not.

Research suggests that sleep duration isn’t the only thing that determines how you feel during your waking hours. A regular sleep schedule is extremely important as well.

Irregular sleep schedules can lead to decreased sleep qualityincreased body fat levels and even significant behavioral issues in children.

Harvard researchers have shown that there is a direct correlation between sleep regularity and GPAs in college students, debunking the idea of late nights in the library as something normal or healthy.

Okay, and what if I’m having trouble with all this?

If you’re aiming for that magic eight hours and can’t manage to either fall asleep on time or stay asleep, check out these tips for sleeping better.

Things like reducing caffeine intake, avoiding substances like alcohol or nicotine before bed, setting up a relaxing bedtime routine, and powering down before bed can all have a positive effect on your ability to fall asleep and sleep deeply without interruption.

If all else fails, it may be time to see if your mattress could be the problem. Our mattress guides are a good place to get started on your mattress buying journey.

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