Everyone needs the right amount of high-quality sleep to maintain optimal health and perform at their best. However, sleep needs can vary among individuals, and although experts offer recommendations by age, it can sometimes be hard to determine exactly how much sleep you need.
According to sleep experts, most adults should choose a bedtime that lets them get about seven to nine hours of sleep each night. We look at some of the factors to consider when choosing a bedtime, including the importance of understanding your body‘s natural rhythms and the risks of not getting enough sleep. We also offer several tips to help you fine tune your sleep schedule
Setting a Bedtime
Finding the right bedtime can be a challenge. There are certain physiological processes that affect when you feel sleepy and when you wake up in the morning. Understanding these natural rhythms is key to setting a bedtime that helps you get the right amount of sleep.
Aligning your sleep schedule with your natural circadian rhythms may reduce the risk of sleep problems and other consequences of poor quality sleep. Circadian rhythms are near 24-hour internal cycles that regulate many systems in your body, including your body temperature and patterns in hormones and appetite.
One important circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle, which influences when you feel sleepy and when you feel awake. The sleep-wake cycle is controlled by a central biological clock in your brain that uses cues from your surroundings, such as light and temperature, to stay in sync with your environment.
The homeostatic sleep drive, also called sleep pressure, builds within your body during waking hours. This means that the longer you are awake, the stronger the pressure to sleep becomes. Your sleep drive is at its lowest after a full night’s rest.
Sleep pressure also increases under certain circumstances, such as periods of illness, physical activity, and during cognitively demanding tasks. This means that you may need to adjust your bedtime when your body requires more sleep.
Your chronotype refers to your natural preferences for being awake in the morning or the evening. “Early birds” tend to perform at their best in the morning, while “night owls” are more alert later into the evening than most people.
About one-fifth of people are early birds, one-fifth are night owls, and the rest don’t have a strong preference one way or the other. If you are someone who functions better earlier in the morning or later at night, and if your wake time is flexible, consider setting your bedtime to account for your chronotype.
Dr. Michael Breus also outlined four chronotypes: lion, bear, wolf, and dolphin. If you’re interested, you can take his quiz to find out which of these chronotypes best applies to you.
How Much Sleep Do You Need?
Experts suggest that adults between the ages of 18 and 64 need seven to nine hours of sleep every day. However, individual needs vary, and some people may thrive on less than six hours a night, while others may need 10 or more to feel refreshed.
To get an idea of how many hours of sleep you need, try letting yourself wake up without an alarm or set wake time. Count how many hours you remained asleep and see if this number fits within the expert-recommended sleep guidelines by age.
Keep in mind that people who get enough sleep usually wake up feeling restored and alert. If you find yourself dozing off during the day, try giving yourself extra time to sleep or talk to your doctor.
Sleep Guidelines by Age
Experts have developed recommendations for nine age groups with different sleep needs.
- Newborns: 14 to 17 hours
- Infants: 12 to 15 hours
- Toddlers: 11 to 14 hours
- Preschoolers: 10 to 13 hours
- School-aged children: 9 to 11 hours
- Teenagers: 8 to 10 hours
- Young adults: 7 to 9 hours
- Adults: 7 to 9 hours
- Older adults: 7 to 8 hours
While these are general guidelines, don’t forget that the right amount of sleep can vary among individuals, even within the same age group.
Another way to estimate the amount of sleep you need is to count how many sleep cycles you’re getting each night. While you sleep, you cycle through two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM), the latter consisting of three distinct stages.
Each stage of sleep is important and affects the body and brain in different ways. People usually cycle through all four stages about four to six times every night, with each cycle lasting about 90 minutes.
A sleep calculator can help you determine the best time to go to bed, based on the number of sleep cycles you want to complete each night and when you plan to wake up in the morning.
Bedtime for 7.5 hours of sleep, or five 90-minute sleep cycles
Bedtime for 9 hours of sleep, or six 90-minute sleep cycles
Consequences of Sleep Deprivation
Getting enough sleep gives your body the time it needs to repair itself and to keep your immune system working optimally. Sleep also plays an important role in cognitive functioning, as the brain requires sufficient sleep to learn and store memories.
Research suggests that getting less than seven hours of sleep can negatively impact your ability to remain alert and pay attention. Just one night of insufficient sleep can make it harder to multitask, think logically, and understand complex sentences.Shop the Best Mattresses of 2023
Not getting enough sleep makes you more likely to make mistakes at work and be involved in car accidents. Long-term sleep deprivation can also put you at risk for a variety of health conditions, from cardiovascular problems to obesity.
While you can’t always control your bedtime, make it a priority to get sufficient, quality rest.
Tips for a Consistent Bedtime
Consistency is key when it comes to improving your sleep hygiene and sticking to a relaxing bedtime routine. Although changing your sleep habits can be challenging at first, several tips may make the transition easier and help you get better and more consistent rest.
- Don’t go to bed too early or too late: For most adults, a bedtime should be set at no more than eight hours before you plan to wake up. A bedtime that is too early could make it difficult to fall asleep. Everyone’s sleep needs are different though, so you may need to experiment to determine what bedtime works best for you.
- Avoid drinking caffeine late in the day: Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you up late. It can also stay in your system for as many as eight hours after consumption, so avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
- Try keeping a sleep diary: Tracking your sleep patterns can help you learn about your sleep habits and determine whether you are getting enough rest. To start a sleep journal, record your bedtimes and wake-up times for a week or two, noting your bedtime, natural wake time, and any difficulty you have sleeping.
- Time your workouts and meals: While daytime exercise is important for good health, avoid working out too close to bedtime. Try not to eat any heavy meals or perform physical activities that raise your heart rate in the last hour or two before bed.
- Talk to your health care provider: Improving your sleep habits can take time, but be sure to talk to your doctor if you have persistent sleep difficulties even after making positive lifestyle changes.
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