How Many Hours of Sleep Do We Need?

Experts agree that, throughout adulthood, most people should sleep for seven to nine hours per day. The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person and changes over a lifetime. People sleep more as children, and gradually need less sleep as they grow older.

Getting adequate sleep is essential to good health. Research shows that sleep affects almost every part of the human body. Sleep impacts concentration and learning, metabolism, immune function, and mood. When sleep quantity or quality aren’t sufficient, people are at increased risk of health problems like obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

We cover how much sleep people need at each stage of life, along with tips for how to obtain adequate sleep.

Sleep Recommendation Guidelines

The National Sleep Foundation provides recommendations for how many hours of sleep people should obtain at each stage of life.

Age
Recommended Sleep Per 24-Hour Period

Newborn, 0-3 months

14-17 hours

Infant, 4-11 hours

12-16 hours

Toddler, 1-2 years

11-14 hours

Preschool, 3-5 years

10-13 hours

School Age, 6-12 years

9-11 hours

Teen, 13-18 years

8-10 hours

Adult, 18-64 hours

7-9 hours

Older Adult, 65+ years

7-8 hours

Sleep Needs of Infants and Newborns (0-11 Months)

According to experts, newborns up to 3 months old require 14 to 17 hours of sleep each 24-hour period, while infants between 4 and 11 months require 12 to 16 hours. Newborns and infants sleep more than any other age group.

Normal sleep patterns for infants change rapidly during the first years of life.

  • Newborns: In the first 3 months of life, newborn babies sleep a great deal and may only stay awake for one to three hours at a time, primarily awakening to be fed.
  • Infants aged 3 to 6 months: Babies may start sleeping for longer stretches at night – at least 5 hours – with shorter naps during the day during this period.
  • Infants aged 6 to 9 months: After reaching 6 months of age, babies usually sleep for 10 to 12 hours total every 24 hours, including up to four naps a day.
  • Infants aged 9 to 11 months: After 9 months of age, babies may sleep for 8 to 10 hour stretches at night without being fed. Infants in this age group typically take between one and four naps a day.

Sleep plays an important role in the development of the brain, which grows rapidly during infancy. Research has shown that sleeping well in infancy is important for the proper development of many mental functions including:

  • Memory
  • Language
  • Executive function, which means the ability to plan and adapt
  • Emotional control

Newborns also need sleep because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Sleep in infancy plays a vital role in immune system development, including response to vaccination.

When babies don’t get enough sleep, there are serious emotional and physical consequences, including increased separation anxiety, an increased likelihood of accidents and injuries, and a greater risk of obesity later in childhood.

How Much Sleep Do Premature Babies Need?

Premature infants who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy typically sleep longer than infants who are born closer to their due date. While babies born at term usually spend about 70% of their time sleeping during the first six months, premature newborns spend about 90% of their time asleep – almost 22 hours a day.

Sleep plays a crucial role in brain development for infants. Over the course of the first year, premature infants gradually develop sleep patterns that are similar to infants born at term.

Infants who were born prematurely benefit from more naps than infants born at term, and they usually sleep for shorter stretches at night. They may be 6 to 8 months of age before they sleep six hours or longer at a stretch at night.

Premature infants are all unique, so their sleep needs are not all the same. It may be helpful to speak with your pediatrician about the optimal amount of sleep for your infant and what kind of sleep patterns to expect during their first year.

Sleep Needs of Toddlers (1-2 Years Old)

Toddlers between 1 and 2 years old need to sleep between 11 and 14 hours during each 24-hour period.

During the toddler years, a great deal of mental and physical growth occurs, including social, emotional, and behavioral development. Good sleep helps this important phase. Lack of adequate sleep can cause serious consequences for a child’s mental development, including their ability to control their emotions and behavior.

By the time they are 18 months old, most toddlers sleep for long stretches at night and usually only take one nap a day. However, toddlers commonly resist going to sleep, and bedtime may be especially challenging if there are older siblings who have a later bedtime.

Sleep Needs of Preschoolers (3-5 Years Old)

Preschool children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Because of the significant amount of mental, physical, and emotional development that occurs during these years, adequate sleep is very important.

During sleep, the body produces growth hormone, which is essential for growth and development. In addition, other hormones are produced during sleep that help build muscle, fight illnesses, and repair tissue damage.

Good sleep habits in early childhood promote good mental, social, emotional, and physical health. Getting enough sleep helps children feel better and cope with the demands of their day, while poor sleep can make their lives more challenging.

In children of preschool age, sleep habits immensely change over time. Normal sleep patterns vary widely across children as well, with some regularly napping in addition to a longer period of sleep at night, while others no longer nap.

Sleep Needs of School-Age Children (6-12 Years Old)

School-age children from 6 to 12 years old need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep a day.

Adequate sleep helps children focus and pay attention. Conversely, when they haven’t had enough sleep, school-age children are more prone to problems with mental performance, behavior, alertness, and mood. The impact of poor sleep is particularly noticeable on complex mental tasks.

Additionally, getting enough sleep results in improved performance on cognitive tasks. Since most school-age children typically no longer nap, it is important to establish a bedtime that allows them to get adequate sleep before their morning wake-up time.

Sleep Needs of Teens (13-17 Years Old)

Experts recommend teens between the ages of 13 and 17 years old sleep for 8 to 10 hours per night. Getting enough sleep benefits adolescents due to the positive impact sleep has on the production of growth hormone, emotional control and behavior, and cognition, which is the ability to learn, remember, and reason.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for teens to get as much sleep as they need. An estimated 7 out of every 10 high school-aged teens do not get as much sleep as they need on school nights.

Certain issues can make it hard for teens to get enough sleep.

  • Early schedules: Teenagers tend to feel sleepy around 11 p.m, but many school schedules make it necessary for them to wake up early in the morning. As a result, they don’t have enough time to get adequate sleep.
  • Homework: Heavy school workloads can make it hard for students to stay on top of homework and get enough rest.
  • Technology: Smartphones in particular tend to distract teens with messages and alerts. Both the interruptions and the nature of the technology can interfere with sleep.

Sleep is immensely important for teens, and a lack of it has been found to negatively affect brain development. Not getting enough sleep puts teens at increased risk of poor mental health, attention issues, behavioral problems, injury, diabetes, and obesity.

Sleep Needs of Young Adults and Adults (18-64 Years Old)

Most young adults and adults up to the age of 64 need seven to nine hours of sleep per night. People who sleep more than seven hours per night have a reduced risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and stroke. Getting adequate sleep also improves immune function and mental health.

Better health is not the only benefit of getting enough sleep as an adult. Sufficient sleep during adulthood promotes the abilities to learn, remember, and reason. Maintaining sufficient sleep through middle age helps stave off cognitive decline, which is the forgetfulness and confusion that sometimes causes trouble as people age.

During the adult years, people often have multiple academic, occupational, family-related, and other demands on their time. This can make it hard for them to carve out enough room in their schedule for adequate sleep. In the United States, almost 30% of adults report getting six hours or less of sleep each night.

The many benefits of sleeping long enough make it worthwhile to make sleep a priority, even if it means adjusting your sleep schedule.

How Much Sleep Do College Students Need?

College students generally require the same amount of sleep as others in their age group. However, the demands and distractions of college life make it common for college students to get insufficient sleep.

Research has shown that college students are often distracted from sleep by part-time jobs, staying up late to finish a research paper or study for an exam, and television. Research also suggests college students prioritize adequate sleep, because sleep deprivation has been found to negatively affect academic performance. Sleep loss causes learning impairment and problems with focus and attention.

All-nighters, when a student stays up all night to finish an academic project or study for an exam, are particularly bad for brain function. Even short-term disruption of sleep has consequences, such as more trouble responding to stress, and decreased memory and mental performance.

Sleep Needs of Older Adults (65 or More Years Old)

Older adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep a night, which may be slightly less than they required when they were younger than 65 years old. Sleep patterns change as a person ages. Sleep changes that affect people over 65 may include:

  • Going to sleep later
  • Sleeping less at night
  • More frequent daytime naps
  • Waking up more during the night
  • Spending more time awake during the night
  • Experiencing less slow wave sleep

Older adults commonly have trouble getting enough sleep. The wake-sleep cycle and mechanisms that help people stay awake during the day may become weaker in older adults. Sleep changes are observed in aging adults even if they don’t use medication or have medical problems that interfere with sleep.

Both daytime sleepiness and daytime naps are more common in older adults. While research is ongoing into the relationship between napping and health in older people, shorter naps of approximately a half hour have been linked with better health.

Understanding How Much Sleep You Need

Guidelines for sleep requirements serve as a general rule for sleep needs. However, the ideal amount of sleep can vary from person to person. While it is not the norm, some people may be short sleepers, needing less than six hour of sleep a night to feel rested. Other people may need more sleep than what is recommended for their age group.

In addition to age, sleep requirements for an individual can depend on other factors.

  • Health issues: A number of medical conditions, ranging from neurological diseases to inflammatory conditions, can cause people to feel excessively sleepy during the day or require more sleep overall.
  • Medications: Many common medications, including pain medications, drugs to treat seizures, and psychiatric drugs, may produce sleepiness.
  • Genetics: Inherited differences between individuals can account for some differences in how much sleep they need.
  • Physical demands: Athletes generally need more sleep to achieve peak performance and recuperate from training.

How to Decide How Much Sleep You Need

Because sleep requirements vary from person to person, figuring out how much sleep a particular individual needs can be tricky. In addition to watching for signs that they may be getting too much or not enough sleep, there are factors people can consider to determine how much sleep is needed for them to function at their best:

  • How long they need to sleep in order to feel energized
  • Any health issues that may contribute to sleepiness
  • Involvement in intense physical training, such as sports or competitive athletics
  • Job duties and whether they relate to public safety
  • How long they sleep without restrictions, such as on vacation
  • Whether they rely on caffeine to stay awake

Signs You May Not Be Getting Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can result in physical, mental, and mood alterations during the day. Certain symptoms may indicate a need for more sleep.

  • Problems with thinking: Experts consider that cognitive impairment, or difficulty thinking, is the most obvious effect of insufficient sleep. People have trouble remaining alert, concentrating, and focusing their attention on the right things if they haven’t had adequate sleep.
  • Feeling tired during the day: A lack of sleep can disrupt a person’s 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. This disruption can lead to daytime sleepiness and alertness at night.
  • Not feeling refreshed: If people do not get enough sleep, they may feel sluggish and drowsy instead of well rested and alert in the morning when they wake up.
  • Slowed reaction times: The ability to react quickly may be impaired when a person is not sleeping enough.
  • Frequently dozing off: Easily falling asleep while watching TV, riding in a car, reading, or sitting in traffic can be indicators that a person is sleep deprived.

Signs You May Be Getting Too Much Sleep

More than nine hours of sleep in a 24-hour period is considered to be excessive in adults. Getting too much sleep is less common than being sleep deprived. However, sleeping excessively can also cause negative effects.

  • Napping at inappropriate times: Falling asleep repeatedly during the day, especially during inappropriate times, like while at work, while eating, or while talking to someone, may be signs of a sleep disorder.
  • Difficulty awakening from a long sleep: Rather than feeling refreshed, having trouble awakening after a long period of sleep may be a sign of a sleep problem.
  • Being distressed about sleeping too much: While some people naturally sleep longer than what is typical, being distressed by the amount of time they spend sleeping may be a sign of a problem.

Too much sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, experts may have trouble determining whether sleeping more is a cause or an effect of illness, since a number of medical issues can cause people to experience excessive sleepiness.

Tips for Improving Your Sleep

Getting enough sleep can improve physical health, mental functioning, and mood. There are several factors that can help improve sleep.

  • Exercise earlier in the day: Exercising, preferably outdoors, earlier in the day, can help you sleep better at night. Exercise may improve sleep in several ways, including by realigning your internal body clock to better match light and dark hours.
  • Make the bedroom conducive for sleep: You may sleep better when the bedroom is dark and quiet. Avoid using electronic devices like televisions, smartphones, and computers in the bedroom.
  • Keep the bedroom cool: Your body temperature lowers during sleep. It is helpful to keep the bedroom slightly cool, but not so cold that it wakes you up throughout the night.

Sleep Tips for Babies

  • Help your baby wind down before bedtime: As it gets closer to bedtime, keep the house quiet and dim. Keep things calm and quiet in the evening.
  • Save the excitement for daytime: Playing and talking helps your baby be more active during the day and encourages more sleep at night.
  • Put your baby to bed when they are sleepy: Putting the baby down when they are sleepy, but not yet asleep, helps them learn to go to sleep on their own.

Sleep Tips for Children

  • Stick to a bedtime routine: Create a consistent routine for winding down before bed and have children go to bed at the same time each night. Having a routine signals to the mind and body that it’s time to prepare for sleep.
  • Lead into bedtime with calming activities: Reading a book or taking a bath are soothing activities that can help your child wind down before bedtime.
  • Take a favorite item to bed: Having a special blanket or teddy bear often helps children fall asleep. This comforting security object may make your child feel more relaxed.

Sleep Tips for High School and College Students

  • Avoid caffeine late in the day: Drinks like coffee, tea, and soda contain caffeine, a stimulant that may result in less restorative sleep and less sleep overall.
  • Don’t sleep with your phone: Continually hearing phone alerts can make it hard to wind down. Consider charging your phone in another room overnight.
  • Keep a consistent bedtime: Going to bed at the same time each night can make it easier for you to get to sleep. Set a bedtime that allows you to get enough sleep before you have to wake up in the morning and get to work or school.

Sleep Tips for Older Adults

  • Consider your bedroom a sleep sanctuary: Use your bedroom only for sleeping. If you’re still awake 20 minutes after you’ve gone to bed, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
  • Ask your doctor about medication side effects: Many medications can disrupt sleep. Discuss your current medications and potential side effects with your doctor.
  • Take a walk outside: Exercise and sunlight exposure can promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle. If early awakening is a problem, get some bright light exposure in the evening. If waking up too late is a problem, try taking a stroll in the sunshine first thing in the morning.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Much Sleep We Need

 

Why Do Some People Seem to Need Less Sleep Than Others?

Research has suggested that inherited genes might enable some people to sleep six hours or less per night without showing signs of sleep deprivation. Although rare, some people can get by on less than six hours of sleep without symptoms like fatigue or daytime sleepiness.

If I Don’t Get Enough Sleep During the Week, Can I Make Up for It by Sleeping Longer on the Weekends?

Using the weekend to catch up on sleep has been found to reduce sleepiness. However, when sleep requirements aren’t met, sleep debt accumulates. If the sleep debt is too high, a weekend may not be long enough to undo the damage done by sleeping too little all week.

Can My Fitbit Really Tell Me How Much Sleep I’m Getting?

Wearable devices, like Fitbits, may overestimate sleep time and sleep efficiency when compared to the more sophisticated technologies available in a sleep lab. However, sleep measurements from a wrist band may be a good starting point for a discussion with a doctor about sleep. If a doctor suspects a sleep disorder, formal sleep testing using a sleep study may be ordered.

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Michael Breus, Ph.D - The Sleep Doctor is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan and Good Night!