We all know by now that getting enough sleep at night is critically important for our health and well-being — but just how much is ‘enough’? Thanks to newly released guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation, you can now know exactly how many hours of sleep you need at every stage in your life.
The non-profit scientific foundation, along with a panel of experts, updated its nightly sleep duration advice for all ages in a report published Feb. 2 in Sleep Health: The Official Journal of the National Sleep Foundation.
For most age groups, that includes widening the recommended duration for sleep. Here’s the breakdown:
- Newborn (0-3 months): 14-17 hours (previously: 12-18 hours)
- Infant (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (previously: 14-15 hours)
- Toddler (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (previously: 12-14 hours)
- Preschooler (3-5 years): 10-13 hours (previously: 11-13 hours)
- School-age child (6-13 years): 9-11 hours (previously: 10-11 hours)
- Teen (14-17 years): 8-10 hours (previously: 8½-9½ hours)
- Young adult (18-25 years): 7-9 hours (new category)
- Adult (26-64 years): 7-9 hours (no change)
- Older adult (65+ years): 7-8 hours (new category)
These new recommendations were the result of “multiple rounds of consensus voting after a comprehensive review of published scientific studies on sleep and health,” according to the release. The panel included six sleep experts as well as experts from several other medical associations including the American Neurological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and American Physiological Society, totaling 18 people.
Researchers also reviewed more than 300 sleep studies to reach consensus, focusing on sleep’s impact on a range of health outcomes, including memory, mood, performance, and also health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure.
“This is the first time that any professional organization has developed age-specific recommended sleep durations based on a rigorous, systematic review of the world scientific literature relating sleep duration to health, performance and safety,” Dr. Charles Czeisler, PhD, MD, chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation, said in a statement.
The report pointed out that most Americans get less than the recommended amount of sleep — and they aren’t exactly addressing the issue correctly. “The solution is not going out and drinking a couple of cans of Red Bull,” Dr. Stuart Quan, a professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School, tells WebMD, “The solution is to get more sleep.”
Going without adequate sleep carries with it both short- and long-term health consequences. In the short term, a lack of adequate sleep can affect judgment, mood, reaction time, ability to learn and retain information, and may increase the risk of serious accidents and injury. In the long term, chronic sleep deprivation may lead to a host of health problems including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even early mortality.
Too little sleep also increases the risk of headaches and depression, and has been shown to worsen sex drive, skin aging, memory, and stress. And several recent studies suggest that lack of sleep — particularly in early- and mid-life — can lead to a decline in brain volume that may ultimately heighten the risk of dementia.
The report concludes by reminding us of the importance of practicing good sleep hygiene, which includes:
- Establishing consistent sleep/wake schedules
- Creating a regular, relaxing bedtime routine
- Establishing a dark, quiet and comfortable sleep environment
- Sleeping on a comfortable mattress and pillows
- Using the bedroom only for sleep and sex, not for watching TV or using a computer
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding caffeine/alcohol close to bedtime.
The nonstop “24/7” nature of the world today encourages longer or nighttime work hours and offers continual access to entertainment and other activities. To keep up, people cut back on sleep, often thinking it won’t be a problem because other responsibilities seem much more important. But ultimately, as the National Sleep Foundation emphasizes in the report: “Humans, like all animals, need sleep, along with food, water, and oxygen, to survive.”