Although the question of “how much sleep do I need?” is one that gets asked a lot, the answer isn’t always black and white. Your sleep needs and patterns change a lot during a lifetime. It was very likely that you fought taking naps as a kid but would love to have them back as an adult.
One thing that remains consistent throughout the years is the importance of good sleep. Most people know they need more sleep but don't take the time or make the changes required to fit it in. We are too busy entertaining impossible schedules and trying to fit a million tasks into one day. To worsen matters, we survive on coffee and other stimulants to keep us alert and focused throughout the day. All of these factors disrupt our natural sleep cycle.
You need to look at the big picture to answer the question “how many hours of sleep do I need?” Your lifestyle habits, work schedule, age, gender, and stress level all affect your sleep needs. Here’s how to determine how much sleep you should be getting.
Most babies can sleep through just about anything while older children fight going to bed at night. Teenagers are almost impossible to get out of bed in the morning. By the time you’re an adult, you never feel like you get enough sleep.
The biggest transmission in your sleep cycle occurs during the transition of an adolescent to a young adult. According to Doctor Robert Simpson, sleep specialist and assistant professor in the University of Utah’s pulmonary medicine department, “Most adolescents feel like they sleep terrifically, and if you try to wake them up, you’re not even sure they’re alive. That’s because they have lots of what we call deep, slow-wave sleep (1).”To understand what your sleep needs are, you first need to know how sleep works. Sleep can be split into two categories: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. REM is the stage of sleep you’re in when you dream. Non-REM is characterized by a deeper sleep and can further be broken down into three stages.
According to Doctor Simpson, deep slow-wave sleep is most common through the teen years and into the early 20’s. When a person grows out of their early adult years, they tend to transition into the middle sleep stage or stage two. Most people find that their sleep becomes lighter and less restorative as they age. Your sleep patterns and habits may also reflect your stage of health.
There are various reasons why you aren’t sleeping as well or as much as you did when you were younger. Entering middle age may result in a faster or more stressful pace of life. Starting a family, raising children, and advancing in your career may prove to be stressful enough to affect your sleep at night. Some people claim they never sleep well again after having children. Others are kept awake at night working or studying for school. All of these common factors can impact your sleep.
By the time a person reaches their elderly years, they may find that they have more time to rest, but they rarely get it. Sore and achy muscles and joints can prevent sleep. Certain medications and other medical conditions may also prevent sleep. Older people are more likely to suffer from advanced sleep-phase syndrome (1), which occurs when their internal clock or circadian cycle becomes disrupted. Older people may go to bed early and wake up in the middle of the night unable to go back to sleep, which causes them to take naps during the day.
Sleep patterns tend to be different between men and women. According to the National Sleep Foundation, women need approximately 20 more minutes of sleep each night than men (2). The report indicated that women require more time to recover at night because they tend to do more multitasking than men, which uses more brain activity. Women also experience several gender specific factors that may interrupt their sleep, such as pregnancy and menopause. Women are more likely to be overthinkers or are kept awake by male partners who are larger than them and move around in the bed (2).
In addition to having different sleep requirements, men and women also differ in terms of how they approach sleep. According to a 2013 study, women are more likely to nap or go to bed earlier than men (3). A 2004 study showed that mothers in the United States were more likely to get up in the middle of the night with their babies during the first month postpartum because they were able to sleep during the day. Ironically, even when these women got up in the middle of the night, they slept more than their male partners during this time (4).A 2008 study showed that men and women differ in how they sleep. According to the study, men perceived sleep as an unfortunate necessity because it took them away from being able to fulfill other responsibilities (5). The study suggested that women were more likely to invest in their overall health and that men might be viewed as less masculine if they did the same.
According to a 2010 study, there might be differences in the circadian systems of men and women. The circadian system is another term for a person’s natural sleep cycle. It is responsible for the release of melatonin, which is needed to stimulate sleep. Melatonin is released at night when it gets dark and is suppressed when you are exposed to light. The study observed the circadian cycles of 157 men and women by measuring their body temperatures and melatonin levels for one month. Results showed there were significant changes in the sleep times and wake times between men and women (6).The following are some key highlights of the study:
Although women are more likely to experience increased restorative stages of sleep, they also may be more prone to developing sleep disorders than men. Women go through more hormonal changes than men, such as menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause, which can affect sleep. Women are also more likely than men to suffer from insomnia (9). Even though they benefit from more restorative sleep when they are younger, a woman’s sleep quality begins to decline after the age of 40 (10).
Research shows that women who get less than eight hours of sleep a night are more likely to develop heart problems (11). Men may also experience an increased risk for heart disease when they get less than eight hours of sleep at night, but the risk is not as high. One study found that women were more likely than men to experience insomnia while being treated for cancer (12).
The study concluded that sleep needs are different for everyone and these recommendations should only be used as guidelines. People who suffer from a sleep disorder may need to adjust their needs. Serious health problems may occur in anyone who aggressively sleeps outside the normal range for their age group, such as those who get too much or too little sleep (13).
To determine how much sleep you need, consider your own individual needs by asking yourself the following questions:
These questions can help you determine how much sleep is right for you. If you are over stressed or exercise extensively, you may find that you need more sleep than most. If you rely on caffeine and other stimulants to get you through the day, you may require more sleep. On the other hand, you may feel that too much sleep makes you feel even more tired.
Everyone has their own unique, delicate balance between sleep and wake time. Your perfect number is usually determined by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Your needs may also vary each night. For example, if you got too much sleep one night, you may not need as much the next. If you did not sleep well one night, you might find that you sleep better the next evening. Allowing yourself room to be flexible with your sleep schedule is an important part in determining your perfect number.
Your sleep number, or the hours you need to spend sleeping each night for the best results, is contingent on several factors. Your age, gender, and stress levels all play a role in determining your perfect number. Children and teenagers may find they need to sleep more than they would like and adults would like to sleep more than they do.Ideally, it should only take you between 15 to 20 minutes to fall asleep once you lay down. If it takes you longer than this, it could be due to stress, caffeine or electronic stimulants. Try cutting down on these several hours before bedtime, so you’re fully relaxed when your head hits the pillow. Waking up before your alarm is a good indication that you’ve had enough sleep for the night. Finally, pay attention to how you feel during the day. If you have problems concentrating or staying awake, it could be your body’s way of telling you to get more sleep at night.