Recommended hours of sleep: How much sleep do children and adults really need?

We all know that sleep is important for our overall health, but how much sleep do we actually need? And does the amount of sleep we need change throughout our lives? 

When we sleep, our bodies go through various sleep cycles to restore us for the day ahead, but 1 in 3 adults get less than the recommended amount of sleep each night, which can have a detrimental effect on day-to-day functioning.

In this guide, we’re going to explore the recommended hours of sleep needed for each age group, along with other factors that determine whether you need more or less sleep than the average person.

Table of Contents

Recommended hours of sleep by age

We know that most of us don’t get enough sleep, but how much shut-eye should we be getting each night?

Below are the recommended hours of sleep that individuals of different ages should get within 24 hours to maintain optimal health. For children aged 0-5, this includes naps:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours 
  • Infants (4-12 months): 12-16 hours
  • Children (1-2 years): 11-14 hours 
  • Children (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
  • Children (6-12 years): 9-12 hours
  • Teenagers (13-17 years): 8-10 hours 
  • Young adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65 and over): 7-8 hours

Sources: PubMed, NCBI

What determines how much sleep you need?

While most people shouldn’t need to deviate too much from the recommended amounts of sleep per age group, there are other factors that determine how much or how little sleep you need. The amount of sleep each person needs can vary depending on:

  • Lifestyle: If you have a very active lifestyle and burn lots of energy throughout the day, you’ll probably need more sleep than someone who doesn’t.
  • Health issues: If you have certain health issues, you may sleep more than the average person.
  • Work life: If your job is very mentally or physically demanding, you may need more sleep.
  • Existing sleep disorders: You may need extra sleep if you suffer from a sleep disorder such as insomnia, sleep apnea, or restless leg syndrome – or on a short-term basis if you’re overcoming jet lag.

How much sleep is right for you?

Because the amount of sleep we need can vary, you may need more sleep than your partner, for example, and your child will need more sleep than you. There are a few ways to determine whether the amount of sleep you’re getting on a regular basis is enough.

Monitor how you feel

It sounds simple, but life often gets in the way of sleep, and we can forget how important it is. This leads to many of us getting used to operating on an inadequate amount of sleep, which isn’t good for our long-term health. Ask yourself this question: Do you feel well-rested, alert, and able to function after getting your regular amount of sleep? If not, then chances are you need more sleep. If you think you’re getting enough sleep, but still feel tired all the time, you should consult your doctor.

Keep a sleep diary

Keeping a sleep diary can help you get an idea of whether you’re sleeping enough. Things to note down include:
  • What time you go to bed
  • What time you wake up
  • Whether you woke in the night (and how long for)
  • Whether you took any naps
  • Total hours of sleep
  • How you feel in the morning (e.g. do you feel refreshed?)
  • How you feel throughout the day (e.g. are you able to function properly? Do you feel sleepy?)

See how long you sleep without an alarm

On weekends or when you’re on holiday, do you sleep for longer than usual? Monitoring your sleep when you don’t have to get up at a specific time is a good way to determine how much sleep you generally need. If you’re on holiday, it’s normal to sleep for a bit longer the first few days as you’ll be catching up on sleep. But after that, if you wake up after 8 hours, that’s likely about how long you need to sleep each night. So, if you’re not getting enough sleep, it’s time to make some changes to your bedtime habits.
excessive daytime sleepiness

Benefits of getting the right amount of sleep

Getting quality sleep on a regular basis is vital for your overall health. This is because a lot happens within the brain and body when we sleep:

  • The brain consolidates memories and flushes out toxins
  • Our immune system gets to work fighting infections
  • The body releases hormones, including those that regulate our appetite and aid bone and muscle development

As well as the obvious benefits of sleep like more energy, better mood, and less fatigue, other advantages include:

  • Better concentration, memory, and productivity
  • Reduced risk of certain health conditions
  • Increased performance and reaction time

In children, quality sleep can improve attention, behavior, learning, memory, and emotional regulation.

What is ‘quality sleep’?

After a good night’s sleep, we usually feel more alert, refreshed, and ready for the day ahead. But what determines whether or not our sleep is good quality?

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society, it’s the following:

  • Adequate duration
  • Appropriate timing
  • Regularity
  • The absence of sleep disorders/disturbances

What happens if you don’t get the recommended amount of sleep?

In adults, getting less than the recommended hours of sleep has been linked to various health concerns, including:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension, heart disease, and stroke
  • Depression
  • Impaired immune function
  • Increased pain
  • Impaired performance
  • Greater risk of accidents

In children, not getting the recommended amount of sleep is often associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems. 

If you’re not getting enough sleep, you may:

  • Suffer from daytime sleepiness
  • Feel fatigued during the day
  • Experience mood swings and irritability
  • Struggle to focus
  • Rely on caffeine for energy
  • Sleep longer than usual when you don’t set an alarm
  • Notice dark undereye circles or a dull complexion on your skin

How to ensure you get enough sleep

Once you have an understanding of how much sleep you require, you’ll need to factor this into your daily routine to ensure you get enough sleep each night.

If you struggle to switch off when it comes to bedtime, here are some sleep hygiene tips:

  • Get outside during the day
  • Exercise during the day
  • Stick to a sleep schedule
  • Establish a bedtime routine
  • Minimize screen time before bed
  • Avoid caffeine for several hours before bed
  • Invest in a comfortable mattress and pillows
  • Keep your sleep environment cool and free from noise disturbances 

Read our sleep tips article for more advice on getting a good night’s sleep.

Is it possible to get too much sleep?

When it comes to recommended sleep hours, there is some wiggle room – some may be able to function with slightly less sleep, while others may require slightly more each night.

But can regularly sleeping too much affect our health in the same way that regularly not getting enough sleep does? 

Oversleeping has been associated with various health issues such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression, and headaches. 

One study found that sleeping too much was associated with certain psychiatric diseases and a higher BMI, but not with chronic medical disorders (as is the case with sleep deficiency).

Another study in older adults found that both those who slept for too little or too long experienced more cognitive decline than those who slept a moderate amount, suggesting that sleep quality may have more of an effect on cognitive performance than total sleep time.

So, are you getting enough sleep? Ultimately, if you wake feeling refreshed and don’t struggle to function throughout the day, you’re probably getting enough sleep. But if you struggle to function, have poor memory, or any of the other symptoms mentioned throughout this guide, you likely need more sleep.

If you think you may be sleeping too much or too little, be sure to speak to a healthcare professional.

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