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How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

By Elizabeth Battaglino, RN, CEO of HealthyWomen

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Why can some people log just four hours of sleep every night and function just fine, while others are feeling fatigued despite getting eight or nine?

Sleep deprivation leads to all sorts of health issues, like obesity, memory problems, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and depression. Yet, so many of us come up short in the hours logged between the sheets. The notion of feeling fully rested seems like a distant dream.

This question has spurred much research. One study found that less than 3 percent of the population is able to get by on very little sleep due to a rare genetic mutation; they sleep more intensely and, as a result, can get by on less of it.

Another two-year study published in Sleep Health gathered enough data to come up with expert recommendations on minimum and maximum ranges as well as rule-of-thumb numbers.

Individual sleep needs vary widely. Aside from those lucky ones with the enviable genetic mutation, there are some questions you can ask yourself to get a glimpse into your true sleep needs.

Some things to ponder: Am I productive, healthy and satisfied with the amount of sleep I'm getting? Or do I need more sleep than I get to feel like I'm functioning at my best? Other things to consider are the state of your health, your need for caffeine to get yourself through the day, and if you feel sleepy when you're behind the wheel.

Based on the its latest findings, the National Sleep Foundation has come up with these recommendations: 

Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours per day
Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours
Teens (14-17): 8-10 hours
Young adults (18-25): 7-9 hours
Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours
Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours

If you're not falling into this range, it might be helpful to examine the reasons. Ask yourself these questions to help sleuth out solutions to your sleep problems:

  • Are you sticking to a regular sleep schedule (even on the weekends)?
  • Are you exercising daily?
  • Do you engage in a relaxing sleep ritual (reading, yoga, stretching)?
  • How are your sleeping conditions (Is the room cool enough? Dark enough? Is your mattress comfortable?)?
  • Do you avoid hidden sleep saboteurs, like caffeine and alcohol?

Other possible reasons your sleep might be insufficient include chronic pain, diet, snoring, too much technology, anxiety, shift work disorder, certain medications, stress, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome or other sleep disorders. A sleep study might be able to give a physician insight into what is coming between you and a well-rested night.

And one more thing: We must all make sleep a priority. It's just as essential to your physical health as exercise and eating right! Lack of sleep is tough on your body, weakening your immune system and making you more vulnerable to illness, and making it harder to fight illness, too.

Learn More:
Should You Visit a Sleep Clinic?
Is Menopause Playing Havoc With Your Sleep?
Sleep: The Secret to Success