How Much Sleep Do You Really Need to Feel Rested?

Sleep needs change across a lifetime and vary among individuals

We’ve all been told that we should get 8 hours of sleep per night, but this information is an average and might not be a perfect fit for everyone. Some people may need more sleep and others less, and our needs may actually change through the years. Thus, the oft-recited advice that every person needs exactly 8 hours of sleep a night is a myth.

man sleeping
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Short Sleepers vs. Long Sleepers

Everyone has a sleep need that is likely determined by genes, or genetic information. This need is the amount of sleep our body requires for us to wake up feeling refreshed. It differs from one individual to another. This difference likely occurs across a spectrum, with "short sleepers" needing less than average (<7 hours) and "long sleepers" needing more (>9 hours).

Changing Needs Across a Lifetime

The average amount of sleep needed changes over our lifetime, especially during childhood and adolescence. Although there are averages, there will be individuals who fall both above and below these needs, including the following groups of people:

  • Infants (3-11 months) need 12-16 hours
  • Toddlers (12-35 months) need 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-6 years) need 10-13 hours
  • School age (6-10 years) need 9-12 hours
  • Adolescents (11-18 years) need 8-10 hours
  • Adults need an average of 8 hours, but the normal range is 7-9 hours
  • Elderly adults may need less sleep, averaging 7-8 hours

Sleep Debt

What happens if we don’t meet our sleep needs? By not getting enough sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that we usually have to "pay off." This pay-off might involve extra sleep by napping, going to bed early, or sleeping in to catch up. If we sleep less than our body needs to feel refreshed and don’t catch up we might experience:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor thinking
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Other health complications (i.e., weight gain)

These symptoms may compromise our health and well-being.

How Can I Determine My Sleep Needs?

There is an easy way to determine how much sleep you need. Follow these steps:

  1. Set aside a week or two that you can focus on your sleep and not allow disruptions or changes to your sleep schedule.
  2. Select a typical bedtime and stick with it, night after night.
  3. Allow yourself to sleep in as long as you want, awakening without an alarm clock in the morning.
  4. After a few days, you will have paid off your sleep debt, and you will begin to approach the average amount of sleep that you need.
  5. Once you determine your need, try to set your bedtime at an hour that will allow you the sleep you need, while still waking up in time to start your day.

Effects of Sleep Deprivation

It is extremely important that your body gets the sleep it needs. Chronic, or long-term, sleep deprivation is linked to a variety of problems that impair your health, safety, productivity, mood, and more. Here are some possible repercussions secondary to sleep deprivation:

  • Decreased alertness
  • Decreased performance
  • Memory impairment
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Injury on the job
  • Injuries due to automobile crash or other heavy machinery

Oftentimes, people who experience chronic sleep deprivation write off their condition as a "normal" experience, and chalk their fatigue up to the stress of life, work, and kids. These people don't realize that not getting enough sleep is very unhealthy, and they can go on for years without correcting the problem or seeking help.

A Word From Verywell

If you struggle to meet your sleep needs, make a conscious effort to prioritize sleep and protect your bedtime. Ensure that you have sufficient hours in bed, on a nightly basis. Keep your sleep schedule consistent, even through the weekend. Enroll the support of your friends and family. For those who need more advice, consider participating in a cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) program or visit with a board-certified sleep physician.

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