The importance of sleep for your overall health cannot be understated. However, just how many hours of sleep a person needs every day varies depending on his or her age, gender, genetics, activity level and other health factors. Sleep directly impacts your mental and physical health in significant ways. Sleep deprivation can generate mild symptoms such as tiredness, trouble concentrating or irritability, but over time, it can result in more significant health conditions such as mood disorders, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, stroke and various mental illnesses.
To ensure you and every member of your family gets enough sleep, it’s wise to understand the nightly requirements as dictated by age.
Parents of newborns are highly cognizant of the benefits of a consistent sleep schedule, and internet searches for “how much sleep do I need” are a common occurrence. Though parents may stress about their own sleep, or lack thereof, newborn babies must spend the large majority of their days sleeping.
Newborns should spend between 14 to 17 hours each day sleeping, but these hours don’t happen in straight stretches. Brand new babies need to eat approximately every two hours, so their sleep periods are interrupted frequently by both night and daytime feedings. In addition to frequent daytime naps, newborns often sleep for longer stretches of time during the night.
In the first three months of life, it’s common for a newborn to exhibit different sleep patterns. Because of this, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that parents should not worry about sleep fluctuations until babies are four months old.
As babies grow, their sleep needs change. Babies between the ages of four to eleven months old should get 12 to 16 hours of sleep every day. Babies at this age often start to sleep for longer stretches during the night, with several daytime naps that total about four hours during typical waking hours.
During this stage, babies will consolidate their nightly sleep hours at around six months of age, though nighttime wakings are still a common occurrence. Rather than focus on how long a baby sleeps at a time, it’s important to ensure he or she sleeps the recommended number of hours–regardless of whether it’s consecutive or not.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
The sleep needs of toddlers, or children aged one to two years, decrease as they leave babyhood. Toddlers need between 11 to 14 hours of sleep per night, most of which will happen during the night. However, toddlers still customarily nap during the day, with one-year-olds typically napping twice per day and older two-year-olds often napping just once during the day.
Children aged three to five years old may stop napping entirely, but naps may still be a part of the recommended 10 to 13 hours of sleep they need every day.
Elementary school children start to need fewer hours of sleep, with 9 to 12 hours as the ideal. During this growth period, kids demonstrate different sleep needs depending on various lifestyle factors, and it’s not uncommon to see fluctuations from year to year, or even from child to child within the same age group.
However, some school-aged children may still require, or benefit from, naps taken during the day. Because some children within this age group need up to 12 hours of nightly sleep, parents should remain flexible about individual sleep requirements if their child seems tired and desires a bit of extra sleep.
When a child approaches the age of 13 or 14, his or her internal clock begins to shift. Studies have shown that teenagers, though they need between eight and ten hours of sleep per night, experience a shift during puberty that prompts their bodies to want to go to bed later and sleep in later in the morning.
It’s important for teenagers between ages 13 and 18 to get plenty of sleep to ensure they can maintain their focus, mood, health and personal wellbeing. Experts recommend that teenagers stick to a consistent bedtime, even on weekends, that will allow them to get enough rest.
College-aged adults aged between 18-25 should get between seven and nine hours of sleep, and this group, in particular, should be wary of the effects of sleeplessness on their mood. Rates of mental illness increase within this age group, and the prevalence of both anxiety and depression for young adults is considerable.
Common sleep interferences for young adults include stress, caffeine, nighttime screen use, physical inactivity, poor diet and inconsistency in sleep routines. However, it’s incredibly important that a young adult prioritizes good sleep habits and gets plenty of rest to maintain optimal mental and physical health.
Before the age of 65, the sleep needs of an adult can vary from person to person and at different points in adulthood. Generally, adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, but each individual should have a better idea of how much sleep he or she needs within this range in order to feel productive, happy and healthy.
In fact, some adults, depending on their lifestyle, can safely sustain themselves on just six hours of sleep. Though seven is typically the minimum, your body may need more. It’s common for many people to feel their best when they regularly get nine or more hours of sleep, which is not excessive nor unreasonable. In these cases, it’s a good idea to make sleep a priority over other nighttime activities, and to create a solid bedtime routine in order to encourage consistent sleep.
It’s not normal to feel chronically tired or sleep-deprived, though such feelings are considered a generally accepted part of the average adult experience. If you spend a large portion of your time in a state of fatigue or mental fog, you could benefit from a few tweaks in your nighttime routine, including a shift in bedtime to ensure you have a better chance at a solid night’s rest.
Adults aged 65 or older can healthily manage with just seven hours of sleep per night. Contrary to popular belief, however, seniors need to make high-quality sleep a priority, and poor, interrupted or inadequate sleep can wreak havoc on your body. Sleep needs do diminish as people age, but never too drastically. In fact, some seniors benefit from increased sleep as they age.
Older adults often face various health conditions that can make falling and remaining asleep increasingly difficult. For this reason, seniors may find that they benefit from daytime naps or even medical intervention to help them sleep at night. Sleep is an essential, crucial bodily process, and good quality sleep can help everyone lead healthier, happier lives–no matter your age.
Sleep disorders and troubles increase with age, and more than 50% of adults 65 and up have some form of chronic sleep-related complaints including difficulty falling asleep, trouble maintaining sleep, and the total amount of nightly sleep.
Studies show that as a person ages the prevalence of sleep apnea increases. A study published by the American Thoracic Society (ATS) showed the prevalence of sleep apnea (AHI > 10) in adult men of various ages:
- 3.2% prevalence in men 20-44 years old
- 11.3% prevalence in men 45-64 years old
- 18.1% prevalence in men 61-100 years old
The reasons for the higher prevalence of sleep apnea in the elderly is believed to be caused by increased fatty deposits in the parapharyngeal area (areas in the head and neck), lengthening of the soft palate, and changes in body structures surrounding the pharynx.
Post-menopausal women not on hormone replacement therapy also run a higher risk of developing sleep apnea. Reasons for the development of post-menopausal sleep apnea are believed to be related to weight gain and unclear hormonal changes.
A separate study published by the ATS indicates that although the prevalence of sleep apnea increases with age, the severity of sleep apnea decreases with age.
The association between OSA and other medical conditions such as hypertension, congestive heart failure, stroke, coronary artery disease, and atrial fibrillation makes getting elderly patients properly diagnosed critical as these are among the leading causes of death in this population.
If you live in Alaska and suspect, for any reason, that you (or a loved one) may have a sleep disorder and would like to speak with a sleep specialist, contact the Alaska Sleep Clinic by clicking the link below. Once your information has been entered a sleep educator will contact you within 48 business hours for a quick 10-minute over-the-phone consultation to determine if a sleep study is right for you.
It's never too early, or too late, to get help with sleep apnea.