Sleep and Age: How Much Should You Be Getting

How Many Hours Do I Need? Sleep and Age

Sleep is essential to having a healthy and productive life, but getting enough is not always very easy. Many people believe that eight hours of sleep is the ideal amount of rest that everyone needs each night to feel their best, but research has shown that is not true. Individual people have their own unique magic numbers, but there are other factors that play into the ideal amount of sleep.

The Age Factor

The amount of sleep a person requires changes as they go through life. Newborns require a lot more sleep than a five year old, and both need more than an adult. Everyone will go through different stages, but the general guidelines from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggest that sleep changes in phases.

Newborns: Everyone starts off life requiring approximately 16-18 hours a day. The reasons that they need more sleep is because there is so much growth and development occurring in the mind and body. Getting sleep is an important aspect of growing because it is letting all the changes happen that need to. The baby needs to eat of course, so the older they get, the more they are awake to eat and interact with those around them.

Preschool-aged children: Once children have a few years under their belt, they start requiring approximately 11-12 hours a day. Some kids will take naps during the day while others will stay active whenever the sun is up. A lot of the napping schedules revolve around how much sleep a child gets during the night and how active they are during the day.

School-aged children: This phase of life is known for growth spurts and high rates of activity. At least 10 hours a day are required to help a child run at their peak performance levels.

Teens: While it may surprise some, 9-10 hours a day is all the sleep the typical teenager needs. This seems like a lot less than the norm, but this stage of life is an important one because the body’s circadian rhythm is temporarily reset. The internal biological clock tells a person to fall asleep later and wake up later during these years, giving teens a different sleep pattern than the other age demographics.

Adults (including the elderly): The amount of sleep for the typical adult is only 7-8 hours a day. During different phases of life, like having young children, some adults may feel like they get less because they sleep more lightly, but it does not mean they need less.

Other Factors of Sleep

For the general population, the above recommendations are great, but there are exceptions. Differences arise depending on health, including sicknesses and growth spurts. Experts cannot pinpoint an exact amount of sleep that each person needs because it is so personal. It is important to pay attention to your own individual signs by noticing how you feel and how many hours it takes to get a good night’s rest.

Lifestyle is a major factor in how much sleep a person needs. There are people who are up and moving all day long that may require more rest than someone who sits at a desk all day. However, researchers believe that there are common factors that also determine how much sleep you need.

Another thing that influences how much sleep you need each night is based on something experts refer to as sleep debt. Every individual has their own base number of hours, or basal sleep need, and when that number is not met for whatever reason, they start accumulating. If a healthy adult requires 7-8 hours of sleep for their basal sleep need, but miss a couple of hours one night, the next one or two nights will require more sleep to get back to normal.

The Necessity of Sleep

Every age and stage of life needs the right amount of sleep to avoid feeling overly tired and cranky. For teens and adults, there are many harmful effects such as:

  • Feeling  drowsy, especially when driving
  • Increased risk of obesity Because the body tries to make more energy by increasing the appetite to compensate for sleep deprivation
  • Higher risk of diabetes and heart problems
  • Decreased ability to pay attention and remember new information
  • Delayed reaction time
  • An increased risk for psychiatric conditions, especially depression and substance abuse

Researchers Michael H. Bonnet and Donna L. Arand have found strong evidence that when sufficient rest is not received, it compromises mood, performance, and alertness which can result in injury or death. Some of the best medical advice a person can follow is to get enough sleep each night.

About the Author


Jason Smith is recognized by the board of polysomnographic technologists (BRPT) as a registered polysomnographic technologist (RPSGT) since 2003. He is also Director of Clinical Operations for 6 multi-state sleep diagnostic facilities including the nation’s largest 20 bed sleep disorder testing center. Jason has also been a Co-Author with two research publications featured in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.