How Much Sleep Do We Need

Dominique W. Brooks
man sleeping
Learn tips to fall asleep.

Most people are curious about how much sleep a person needs to function. The answer is not as specific as one may believe, though. The amount of sleep you need varies during each stage of life and varies among individuals as well. Although we can function with less sleep than required, we cannot live without sleep and it is important to know what your sleep goals are.

Sleeping Guidelines

The amount of sleep an individual needs is not an exact science. Researchers say that there is no magic number for how many hours of sleep per night you need. This number is associated with your age and genetics. Some people function better when they get nine hours of sleep per night while others may need just seven to perform well. Your lifestyle and activities play a role in the amount of sleep your body needs as well.

Here are some general guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation.

National Sleep Foundation Guidelines: Average Hours of Sleep Per Night

Newborns (0-2 months) 12-18 hours
Infants (3-11 months) 14-15 hours
Toddlers (1-3 years) 12-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years) 11-13 hours
School-Age Children (5-10 years) 10-11 hours
Teenagers (10-17 years) 8.5-9.25 hours
Adults 7-9 hours

Newborns need the most sleep with the majority of their days spent sleeping or napping. This amount of time each day goes down until you hit adulthood where it remains relatively stable for the rest of your life. However, other changes in your life may influence how much sleep you may need.

Here are some other sleep facts:

  • Older adults: Older adults still need the same amount of sleep as younger adults, but due to other changes in their sleep habits like frequent awakenings and less deep sleep, they often tend to take daytime naps. This, in turn, may lead to more problems falling asleep at night.
  • Pregnancy: You generally need more sleep during pregnancy because your body is working harder than usual. Unfortunately, it is also more difficult to get enough sleep because of frequent bathroom trips, leg cramps, shortness of breath, and difficulty finding a comfortable position.
  • History of sleep deprivation: If you are already staying up too late and are behind on your sleep, you will need more sleep to catch up.

Factors That Play a Role

Researchers continue to look for ways to understand the amount of sleep individuals need. In doing so, they often use two figures to help gauge each individual's sleep needs.

  • Basal Sleep Need: Basal sleep need is the amount of sleep the body needs on a regular basis to maintain your best performance in daily life. Your basal sleep need may be between seven to eight hours but the exact number is still up for debate.
  • Sleep Debt: This is the amount of sleep lost due to poor sleep habits or sickness. In other words, this is the accumulated amount of sleep you did not get that you should have.

When you factor in sleep debt, the process of trying to figure out how much sleep you need gets complicated. Some doctors believe that a sleep debt accumulates over time. For example, you get five hours of sleep for two nights, giving you a sleep debt of at least four hours. If on the next two to three days you get your basal sleep need, you are still "in debt" those four hours. This means that you may still feel tired although you have gotten your needed sleep amount.

The ability to make up for a sleep debt is debatable. Some suggest that you need to sleep additional hours in the upcoming nights to make up for the loss while others argue that a sleep debt cannot be recovered. Some suggest that you can bank hours ahead of time to prepare for an upcoming sleep debt. In either case, you should get back into a healthy routine by keeping a regular schedule of seven to nine hours of sleep each night.

Sleep and You

The amount of sleep you need is dependent on what your body needs to be fully rested. As you can see, not getting enough sleep can lead to a number of very worrisome risks. Sleep is important and you should work to make sure you get enough - no matter your age.

How Much Sleep Do We Need