How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

There are a couple things everyone on the plant does. We all go to the bathroom, we all need to eat and drink and we all need to sleep. The age old question still exists for many, however. How much sleep do we really need? To answer this question, a number of factors must be considered, which means the answer is different for each person.

Are you active? Are you young? Are you sick? And, even once that has been figured out, a second question remains for many. What is the point of sleep, and why do we need to do it? Answering this isn’t an easy task, but it’s one we can start taking a look at and seeing if we can come out the other end with a better understanding of sleep and why it’s something everyone absolutely needs.

How Much Time

What’s the Deal with Sleep, Anyway?

Before understanding how much sleep we need, perhaps it’s just as important for us to understand why we need sleep and how sleep actually affects our bodies.

Why Do We Need Sleep?

Young Woman Sleeping

The most basic answer to this question is we need sleep in order for our body to rejuvenate itself. A good rest gives us energy, helps us focus, makes us generally feel better and helps our bodies heal from the day’s exertions.

On a grander scale, the why isn’t necessarily definable. Yes, we know sleeping is good for us, but why is it absolutely required, and why do we feel awful if we don’t get it? These are questions scientists have asked for years, and have studied, but they remain questions with answers which aren’t especially clear.

Though these studies, we have learned how sleep affects our bodies and what all happens while we’re getting our sleep on, so they haven’t all been wasted time.

What Happens During Sleep?

As we sleep, we go through two distinct stages, non-rapid eye movement sleep and rapid eye movement sleep, NREM and REM, respectively. Throughout the night, we move back and forth between these two distinct stages, completing a full cycle every 90 minutes or so. REM sleep is always your goal. This is the deep stage of sleep which helps you feel most rested, giving your brain and body the energy it needs to keep going throughout the day.

NREM sleep is what you experience through most of the night, though as the night progresses, assuming you’re sleeping all the way through the night, it gets shorter and shorter. Three stages comprise NREM sleep. N1 is what you experience just as you begin to fall asleep. Not much happens at this point. N2 begins right as you actually fall asleep. Your body temperature begins to drop and your breathing and heart rate become regular.

Moving into N3 is your deep sleep, just before REM sleep kicks in. This is the good stuff, helping your body in multiple ways. Your blood pressure drops, your breathing slows, your muscles become relaxed and healing begins. Sore muscles start getting more blood, and your body begins to heal and grow new tissue. At this point, your body also releases growth hormones, which is important for developing muscle, as well as for growth and development in our younger years.

Misconceptions About Sleep

Error

When it comes to sleep, everyone thinks they’re an expert. Because of this, there have been numerous myths and general falsities spread over the years regarding the practice. Following this incorrect information can have a detrimental, if not life-threatening, impact on your health.

Take snoring, for instance. This is considered to be a common and probably and isn’t a big deal. On the contrary, snoring can be a sign of a major issue called sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is characterized by interrupted breathing during sleep. Essentially, you pretty much just stop breathing periodically during your sleep cycle, potentially hundreds of times. This means you aren’t getting the amount of required oxygen. To clarify, just because you snore doesn’t mean you suffer from sleep apnea, but snoring can be a sign of it, and it should be checked out when possible.

Another common misconception is the idea that sleep and physical health aren’t related. Sure, sleeping makes you feel better, but can not sleeping actually be detrimental to your health? Absolutely. Poor sleep can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, depression and more. Consider the stages of sleep. During stage N3, your blood pressure drops. If you’re not getting enough of that stage of sleep, your blood pressure isn’t getting a chance to naturally lower itself, which can lead to things like hypertension. Sleep and health are very tightly connected, so putting in your hours is very important.

Back to the Question: How Much Sleep?

I suppose we should look at the primary question, now. Before we get into the full answer, let’s begin by saying “it depends.” So many factors go into how much sleep we need, and much of it depends on your age and lifestyle.

Newborn

New Born Baby

In our first year of life, our sleep needs change every few months. Right out of the womb, it’s suggested babies get approximately 16 and a half hours of sleep per day in the form of three daytime naps totally about eight hours and eight hours and 30 minutes of sleep overnight. Obviously, this doesn’t always happen, as babies take some time before they can sleep through the night, but this is the optimal amount.

At one month old, it’s six to seven hours of sleeping over three naps throughout the day, then eight to nine hours overnight for a total of 14 to 16 hours. At three months, daytime naps should be three totaling to between four and five hours, with nighttime sleeping of 10 to 11 hours.

When six months hits, three one-hour naps during the day and 11 hours at night are ideal. From nine months to the end of their first year, babies should drop the number of naps down to two, totaling two hours and 30 minutes, and should aim for 11 hours overnight.

Obviously, if your baby is hungry or not feeling well, this isn’t going to work out exactly as you may hope, but aiming for this is the best way to make sure your baby has enough rest.

Toddler

Toddler Sleeping

Once kiddos hit the 18-month mark, sleep gets switched up again. If you want a well-rested toddler, you’re going to want to try to get your child to sleep between 10 and 14 hours each day, which includes a one to three-hour nap. It’s important to remember that, if allowed, a toddler is likely to sleep up to 10 hours each night.

At this point in time you can begin to teach good sleeping habits. Throughout their toddler years, naps are going to be somewhat common, but watching how much they sleep is important. It has been suggested, for instance, to not let a nap extend past 3:30 p.m., as this can interfere with the amount of sleep the child gets overnight. Watching your child and gauging their behavior is a great way to determine whether or not more sleep is needed. A grumpy toddler could be in need of a little more sleep.

Pre-School

Pre School Girl

When the babies stop toddling, their sleep should change up a bit, too. In the earlier parts of this stage of life, naps may still be a thing, but they’re likely to taper off around age five. When napping, even at the earlier years, they’ll likely be much shorter. Typically, this age group should get somewhere between 10 and 12 hours each night.

For the most part, kids at this age will climb into bed between 7 and 9 p.m. and likely wake up between 6 and 8 a.m., which is a fair amount of sleep, even if nap isn’t involved.

Pre-Teen

Pre - Teen Girl

As children start to become more involved in school activities, which tends to happen with this age group, sleep is going to become more and more of a commodity. After-school clubs and friends could begin to eat into that precious time, forcing bedtimes to slip further and further back.

While the average amount of sleep children at this age get is approximately nine hours, they should really be aiming for closer to 10 or 11 hours of sleep. A bedtime around 9 p.m. while waking up at 7 a.m. provides the right amount of slip, considering naps are mostly off the table at this point during the school week. Ideally, you’d want to go for an earlier bedtime, but this is all going to depend on the amount of social organizations in which your child is involved.

Teenager

Teenager Girl Sleeping

When the big one three comes around, the necessary amount of sleep finally drops below the double digits. Still, the required amount of sleep for a teenager is a bit higher than that of most adults. Between the ages of 13 and 18, between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep is ideal.

Unfortunately, this time period tends to be even worse off than the pre-teen group. With afterschool programs like sports, academics and music, finding the time to compete while still doing well in school and attempting to get a good night’s sleep can be exceedingly difficult. Many teenagers tend to fail to get the full nine to nine and a half hours, leaving them in a kind of sleep debt which can be difficult to repay.

On top of that, many teenagers simply don’t want to sleep. When there are so many other things to do, including hanging out with friends or catching the latest movie or playing the newest video game, sleep becomes a hindrance, more than a help. Combatting this mindset isn’t an easy task, but it’s something parents should attempt to do, if possible.

During this time, sleep is vital. That N3 stage of sleep is when the developmental stuff occurs, and if kids aren’t reaching it enough, they could run into issues down the line.

Young Adults

Stomach Sleeper

From 18 to 25, the recommended amount of sleep is seven to nine hours per night. Anything less than six and you’re running into problems keeping yourself alert and awake throughout the day. On the opposite end of the spectrum, getting more than 11 hours can leave you feeling groggier than you might like.

Adults

Adult Man

The transition in recommended amounts of sleep after passing the 25-year mark isn’t drastically different. You’re still aiming to hit between seven and nine hours of sleep, but the maximum amount of sleep drops an hour, with researchers suggesting anything more than 10 hours is specifically not recommended.

At this point, you just need to find what works best for you while still attempting to work within the recommendations. Doing so will help you keep you focused and awake during the work day, or whatever your activities may be throughout your day.

Older Adults

Older Adult

From 65 and above, you’ve really earned the right to do pretty much whatever you want when it comes to sleep, though there are still recommendations. Seven to eight hours of sleep each night is your ideal number, but getting as few as five hours can be acceptable. If you can work off five hours, more power to you. You’ll be able to get way more done. Don’t feel bad, however, if you need a bit more rest. Just make sure to keep it at less than nine hours to make sure you’re fully rested and not too groggy the next day.

Activity Levels and Sleep Requirements

Though they don’t have a drastic effect on the amount of sleep needed, you should take into consideration things about your lifestyle and health when determining how much sleep you need. Some of these may not be quite as you’d expect.

Active vs. Sedentary

Exercise
Sedentary

Are you living a sedentary life? If so, you may need to get a bit more sleep than those who are active. Active people don’t need as much sleep, typically, because they healing effects of sleep aren’t as vital to them. Sure, they need to have their muscles get rebuilt after a long day of working out, but exercising releases endorphins which helps reduce stress, and healthier folks tend to have lower blood pressure.

Considering this, that part of sleep isn’t quite as necessary. A sedentary person would need to sleep more to keep all their levels in check. Active folk don’t have that issue, so people living a lifestyle in which they spend a lot of time sitting at work or at home are going to find themselves spending more time in bed, or at least needing to do so, so they can continue to function at a normal level and stay healthy.

Healthy vs. Sick

Healthy Woman
Sick Woman

Not feeling well? Consider staying in bed a little longer this weekend. Studies performed on fruit flies had interesting, though not unexpected, results. Two different studies were performed, the first using fruit flies which either been sleep deprived or not sleep deprived.

The study found that that the flies which were sleep deprived fought bacteria which had been introduced into their system better than their counterparts. Because of the sleep deprivation, they flies slept more than they normally would have once the infection kicked in.

This suggested to scientists that getting more sleep after becoming sick helps your body fight off infections, though I wouldn’t recommend depriving yourself of sleep on a regular basis in order to sleep more on the odd chance you may get sick. Just give yourself a little more time in those situations.

The second test seems to reinforce the idea that you shouldn’t deprive yourself of sleep. For this study, fruit flies were genetically engineered to sleep more than they normally may. Upon being infected with bacteria, the flies which slept more were able to fight off the infection better and had a longer survival rate.

This test suggests sleeping more helps strengthen your immune system, giving you a better chance to not only avoid sickness, but to fight it off faster in the event you do catch some sort of bug. Sleep may take up a whole lot of time, but being sick takes up so much more.

The takeaway from all of this? Get enough sleep each night, and feel free to sleep in when you’re sick. This will give you a better chance of fighting off infections, and will help you beat them when they managed to hold.

Building Good Sleeping Habits

Sleeping Woman

The first step to a healthier and more restful sleep, and one which you can reach must faster, is to make sure your sleeping habits aren’t running contradictory to your goals. There are a significant number of things you can do to keep yourself from having your best night of sleep, and just a few things you need to do to make sure you get it.

The Purpose of Your Bedroom

Bedroom

You may be a human being capable of complicated thoughts, but your body and mind are simple things which can develop both good and bad habits. One of the absolutely best ways to make sure you fall asleep quickly when you climb into bed is to make sure your body knows exactly why you’re in bed.

Take this scenario for instance. You spend most of your time in your bedroom watching television. You sit on the bed, turn on the TV and just watch it all night long. Now, bed time comes along and you climb into bed and what does your body do? It stays awake, because it thinks it’s time to watch television. This is a very simplistic example, but it’s an apt one.

Your bedroom should be used for a grand total of two purposes: sleep and sex. Your room needs to be your sanctuary so that, when you enter it, your body knows one of two things is going to happen, rather than one of a dozen things like watching TV, reading a book, chatting on the phone, or whatever the case may be.

Don’t Go Into the Light

Soft Light Room

Bright lights wake you up, it doesn’t matter from where they come. Spending time on your phone before bed, watching television before bed or having a number of bright lights on before bed won’t help you fall asleep any faster. It’s quite the contrary, really, with hot bright screens tending to energize your body into staying awake for longer than you’d like.

Even getting up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night can be detrimental to your sleep progress. If you find yourself needing to get up often in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, there are two things you should consider: First, you should go to the doctor and figure out why you need to constantly be peeing. Second, get a night light.

Waking up in the night and walking into a dark bathroom, then turning on the lights can quickly jolt your brain to fully awake mode, or at least something like it, for some time. This can make it exceedingly difficult to fall asleep after getting up for that late night potty break.

Keep Your Cool

Air Condition Room

Part of the process of your body’s progression into sleep is to reduce its temperature. Because of this, sleeping in a cool room can help you fall asleep and reach those deeper levels of sleep faster. In a way, you’re assisting with that cooling down process, thus tricking your body into getting better sleep.

Obviously, you don’t want it to be so cold you’re not comfortable. This would be counter to what you’re trying to do, as you likely won’t sleep as well and your body will be spending too much time trying to keep itself warm. This takes away the resources necessary to hit the deeper levels of sleep and make them successful.

Don’t Spice Up Your Life

Spicy Food

If you love spicy foods, consider passing on them several hours before bedtime. Spicy foods, as well as foods high in acid or oil, can lead to issues with heartburn or acid reflux. This are terrible things to have wake you up in the night. If you just can’t avoid them, you may want to pop a couple of antacids before bed and cross your fingers that they kick in in time.

Where You Rest Your Bones

All of those tips are very important, and there are far more, but all the tips in the world won’t be especially helpful if you have a terrible bed. In order to get the right amount of sleep, and to make sure that sleep is the best it can be, you need to have a mattress which suits your needs while being comfortable.

In this day and age, there are a very large variety of mattress types. You’ve got your old-fashioned innerspring mattresses, you’ve got memory foam, you’ve got latex, you’ve got the new-fashioned innersprings and combinations of all of these. The perfect bed is out there for you, you just have to find it.

Materials

The right materials can make all the difference. With memory foam, you have a truly custom experience. Memory foam is a special type of polyurethane foam which has been structurally and chemically changed into viscoelastic foam. The way it works is actually quite interesting.

Memory Foam

When you lay on a memory foam mattress, it’s going to feel pretty soft, but you won’t get the full effect right away. As you lay there, your body heat will slowly start having an effect on the mattress. It will begin to soften around you, becoming more viscous and giving way to your body. In this way, it creates something of a custom indention, making sure you’re comfortable in whichever position you choose to lie.

Memory foam comes in a variety of firmness levels, so you’ll have to give it a go to see which level works best for you. Memory foam comes with some downsides, as well. Because of the nature of memory foam, it tends to retain heat, potentially leaving you covered in sweat each morning. This has been combatted in a couple ways. You can either find memory foam which has been infused with gel beads, which help distribute heat, or you can get memory foam designed with an open cell structure, better allowing air to pass through and pull away the heat.

Latex Foam

Latex foam is a cousin of memory foam, but is far more environmentally friendly. Latex foam can be made entirely from renewable resources, namely latex which comes from trees. There is a synthetic version, as well, but the renewable stuff is much better. Two methods of processing latex foam exist, and each makes the stuff a little different. The Dunlop method results in a more firm latex layer while the Talalay method brings about the option for multiple firmness levels and a lighter mattress.

Innerspring

Innersprings are what you’d expect, springs within the mattress. The old style of innersprings is slowly going the way of the dodo. Older mattresses, and some new ones, use a layer of interlocked springs. This is problematic because of the way movement can be shared across the bed. More modern beds which want to stick innersprings do so with a twist.

Individually wrapped innersprings are the way to go for those who want that innerspring support. Instead of sharing movement across the bed, and giving you aches and pains because it’s not shaping to your body, individually wrapped springs are able to move on their own. Because of this, they can better conform to your body, with only the ones receiving the weight being adjusted, rather than an entire linked group of springs.

Most mattresses out there today use a combination of these various methods, sometimes using one for a comfort layer while using another for a support layer. Polyfoam, the basic stuff you see in pretty much everything, is often used for some of these support layers. Technically, anything which combines these multiple types, especially one of the foams and the innersprings, would be a hybrid mattress.

Sizes

Casper Mattress Sizes

Are you sleeping on the right sized bed? Before you answer that, ask yourself a few questions. Do you sleep alone? Are you tall? Are you an adult? Are you overweight? These are all rather important when it comes to making a decision on bed size.

If you’re a single person who is rather tall, you could consider getting a twin XL. Twins are a bit on the small side, as far as width goes, but they do offer a decent amount of legroom. Going with a full, however, could be a better choice, as you can get more room on either side.

The queen size bed is now one of the most common in America, and many people have begun to use them while sleeping alone, eschewing the full size bed.

If you’re on the larger side, a queen is probably the way to go. If you’re sleeping with a partner, a queen will get the job done, but a king is going to give you way more room, with a cost increase that doesn’t amount to a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

Putting It Together

Getting a good night’s sleep, and making sure you hit the right amount, isn’t the easiest thing to do, especially if you’ve been doing it wrong for quite some time. Working to begin creating good habits, however, can go a long way toward making sure you reach the recommended sleep amounts for your age group and your lifestyle.

It’s important to remember how vital sleep is. It isn’t something you can try to avoid, as much as I would love to. I often talk about how wonderful it would be to not sleep, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact it’s something we desperately need if we want to function properly from day to day. Creating good habits and finding the perfect sleeping situation for yourself are the first steps on the road to a happier, healthier, well-rested you.

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