How much sleep do I need?

Learn how much sleep you need every night, how to get the best quality sleep and how to end the sleepless nights, in this ultimate doctor's guide.

How much sleep do I need?
If you yawn like this hippo, you are advised to urgently see a doctor!

Introduction

This is one of the most important questions you should be asking yourself during your journey to a better night's sleep.

By asking yourself "how much sleep do I need?", you're allowing yourself to set a solid target that you can then aim for. After all, what's the point in trying to get a better night's sleep if you don't even know how much sleep you should be aiming to get?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults require 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal health. Infants, children, and adolescents require additional sleep for growth and development, while those over 65 should get 7-8 hours per night.

Like I said, getting to know the general sleep requirements is a crucial initial step. Afterwards, it's vital to consider your personal sleep needs based on factors like physical activity and health. Lastly, adopting healthy sleep habits is necessary to achieve the recommended hours of sleep.

In this article, you're going to learn:

  • How much sleep you really need
  • The importance of quality sleep as well as quantity
  • How to get the best sleep possible

Speaking of how to get the best sleep possible, here are the options I'll be covering:

Without further ado, let's learn how much sleep you need and why.

What are the benefits of getting the right amount of sleep?

Many! Let's go through the top 8 benefits of sleeping well.

Improves concentration and attention

  • A good night's sleep can boost energy levels, and keep the mind focused and alert throughout the day. Not entirely surprising, is it?
  • Poor sleep can lead to impaired body and brain function the following day, affecting attention span, concentration, problem-solving skills, risk assessment, and reaction time. This can pose a significant risk when driving, making important decisions, or operating heavy machinery. Adequate sleep, on the other hand, helps maintain alertness and focus throughout the day.

Improves ability to form memories and learn

  • Sleep not only provides physical rest, repair, and rejuvenation, but also mental restoration. During sleep, the brain organizes and processes information acquired during the day, converting short-term memories into long-term ones, aiding in learning and facilitating clearer thinking upon waking.

Allows you to maintain a healthy weight

  • Further research is required to fully comprehend the impact of sleep on weight, however, some studies indicate that adequate sleep can support maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Lack of proper sleep leads to longer waking hours, increasing the body's energy needs. This can result in overeating and selection of high-calorie foods, and may also raise appetite due to changes in hunger and satiety hormones. Furthermore, fatigue may decrease motivation to exercise, all of which can hinder efforts to maintain a healthy weight. Adequate sleep can assist in this regard.

Improves cardiovascular health

  • Insufficient sleep increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary heart disease, and stroke. During sleep, the heart rate and blood pressure naturally decrease, providing rest and recovery for the heart. However, improper sleep leads to stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for the "fight-or-flight" response, keeping the heart rate and blood pressure elevated and releasing stress hormones that promote alertness. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of elevated blood pressure during the day.
  • Lack of sleep can also cause inflammation, leading to the accumulation of fatty deposits in arteries, contributing to coronary heart disease. Additionally, inadequate sleep interferes with the regulation of blood sugar, causing high sugar levels that may result in diabetes. High blood pressure and diabetes increase the likelihood of heart disease and stroke.

Improves your immune system

  • Sleep also offers benefits for the immune system, which fights off illness and diseases. During sleep, the body rests and repairs, supporting the proteins and cells of the immune system to identify and eliminate foreign substances, like the common cold. Sleep also helps these cells to remember and defend against these invaders in the future. Thus, it's crucial to give the body proper rest when feeling unwell.

Improves your mental health

  • Sleep also has a significant impact on mental health. While lack of sleep can make existing mental health conditions like depression and anxiety worse, it can also increase the risk of developing such issues.
  • For instance, if you have a lot of worries, anxiety or concerns, you might have trouble falling asleep as you keep ruminating over them. However, a lack of sleep can only add to your problems, causing changes in your mood and leading to feelings of sadness. On the bright side, improving your sleep can also enhance your mental health and overall well-being.

Reduces stress

  • Stress, whether it be caused by work, relationships, finances, or health, can impact one's ability to sleep at night. When stressed, the body releases stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can interfere with sleep. However, a good night's sleep can have a calming effect and relax the systems responsible for the stress response.

Helps you maintain healthy relationships

  • When you don't sleep well, it can leave you feeling irritable, whereas a good night's sleep can boost your mood and enhance your overall outlook. Furthermore, your good mood is likely to have a positive impact on those around you.
  • Lack of sleep can negatively impact your language, reasoning, and communication skills, all of which play a crucial role in building relationships. A poor night's sleep can make it harder to manage your emotions and communicate effectively, sometimes leading to conflicts. On the other hand, sufficient sleep can help regulate your emotions, foster positive interactions, and maintain strong interpersonal relationships.

The recommended sleep duration is divided into 9 age categories. Each category provides a suggested range of sleep time for healthy individuals. It's permissible to sleep an hour above or below the standard range, depending on a person's unique circumstances.

Without any further ado, here's how much sleep we need by age group.

Newborns

  • 0-3 months old
  • 14-17 hours sleep recommended per night

Infant

  • 4-11 months old
  • 12-15 hours sleep recommended per night

Toddler

  • 1-2 years old
  • 11-14 hours sleep recommended per night

Preschool

  • 3-5 years old
  • 10-13 hours sleep recommended per night

School-age

  • 6-13 years old
  • 9-11 hours sleep recommended per night

Teenager

  • 14-17 years old
  • 8-10 hours sleep recommended per night

Young adult

  • 18-25 years old
  • 7-9 hours sleep recommended per night

Adult

  • 26-64 years old
  • 7-9 hours sleep recommended per night

Older adult

  • 65+ years old
  • 7-8 hours sleep recommended per night

So, there you have it. Whether you're a 3-month-old reading this article or a 90-year-old, now you know roughly how to answer the question: "how much sleep do I need?"

You're welcome.

How were these recommendations created?

It's worth understanding this before we move on. Let me explain.

An expert panel of 18 individuals from various scientific and medical fields was brought together to establish the recommended sleep times. The panelists analyzed numerous verified studies, numbering in the hundreds, on sleep duration and its relation to key health outcomes such as cardiovascular disease, depression, pain, and diabetes.

The panel conducted multiple rounds of voting and discussion, based on the evidence they studied, to determine the recommended ranges of sleep for various age groups. The entire process took over nine months to conclude.

Other organizations, such as the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and Sleep Research Society (SRS), have also released guidelines for the appropriate amount of sleep for adults and children. These recommendations are largely consistent with those of similar organizations in Canada.

How much sleep we do really need?

Reading this question, you probably realise now that figuring out how much sleep we need isn't quite as simple as estimating it from your age group.

These guidelines only serve as a general idea for the amount of sleep required by children and adults, recognizing that the ideal amount of sleep may vary among individuals.

Therefore, the guidelines present a range of hours for each age group. The guidelines also acknowledge that for some individuals with exceptional circumstances, there is some flexibility within the range for an "acceptable," although not ideal, amount of sleep.

Thankfully, there are some easy ways to figure out how much sleep you need, as an individual person. It all comes down to answering a few questions honestly and adjusting the amount of sleep you need based on your answers.

Here are some questions you can use to figure out how much sleep you personally need:

  • Do you function well, feel healthy, and experience happiness with seven hours of sleep?
  • Or have you realized that you need more hours of sleep to perform at your best?
  • Do you rely on caffeine to keep you functioning throughout the day?
  • Do you have any health conditions?
  • Or are you at an increased risk for any health condition? You can use your own personal risk factors (eg. existing health conditions, diet, smoking, weight, etc) and any conditions that run in your family to gauge your risk.
  • Are you experiencing any problems sleeping or have you ever had sleeping problems in the past?
  • Do you use up a lot of energy every day? I'm not talking about your personal impact on climate change - the amount of sports you play and labor-intensive activities and work are more relevant here.
  • Do you need to be highly alert when going about your everyday life? For example, if you drive every day, operate machinery, or engage in other high-risk activities, you'll definitely need to keep your wits about you.
  • And importantly, do you ever feel tired or sleepy when carrying out these daily activities of yours?
  • When you have a day off or more free time than usual, do you find yourself sleeping more than you would normally on a normal workday?

Take your time to answer these questions.

It's a very important first step to figuring out what your needs are.

Once you know what your needs are, we can start to think about getting there together. Ask Doctor Jad is here with you.

If any of your answers are less than ideal, it's likely that you will benefit from optimising your sleep.

And please don't be put off or let down by this - it's actually a great thing that you've figured it out! Now you can do something about it and be the best and happiest version of yourself as possible!

Improve your sleep now and make sleep a priority

Once you have determined your desired number of hours of sleep as a nightly goal, it's time to plan how to achieve it!

Begin by treating sleep as a top priority in your daily routine. Allocate enough time for it so that it doesn't get sacrificed for work or social engagements. Though it may seem convenient to skimp on sleep, it can actually be detrimental to your well-being, both mentally and physically. Sleep is a crucial factor in maintaining optimal health and performance.

Enhancing your sleep hygiene, including both the conditions in your bedroom and your sleep practices, is a proven method for achieving better sleep. Some ways to improve your sleep hygiene are:

  • Adhering to a consistent sleep schedule daily, including weekends.
  • Establishing a calming bedtime routine to aid in rapid sleep onset.
  • Selecting a supportive and comfortable mattress and enhancing it with comfortable pillows and bedding.
  • Reducing light and sound interruptions, and creating a comfortable temperature and scent in your bedroom.
  • Disconnecting from electronics such as smartphones and laptops for at least half an hour prior to bedtime.
  • Being mindful of caffeine and alcohol consumption and avoiding their intake close to bedtime.

For those of you who are parents, the same strategies for good sleep apply to ensuring children and adolescents receive the recommended amount of sleep for their age. Parents can also help teenagers specifically, who face numerous unique sleep difficulties, by providing guidance.

It's important to remember that it's not just about the quantity of sleep that we get, it's just as important to ensure that we're getting the right quality too. It's still possible to get the right number of hours sleep but still wake up exhausted, if it's poor quality sleep.

If you or a loved one are showing symptoms like persistent daytime drowsiness, persistent snoring, leg cramps or tingling, difficulty breathing while sleeping, chronic insomnia, or any other symptom that affects your sleep, it is advisable to see your primary care physician or a sleep specialist to identify the underlying issue. Please ensure that you see your doctor before starting or changing any product or service for your sleep difficulties.

How to get the sleep you need quickly

There are ways to speed up the process of getting the sleep you need and deserve. But you need to remember that it's a marathon, not a sprint, and you will need to be patient. You can't expect to solve what's usually a longstanding problem in a matter of days. But you can start to make improvements quickly.

So here are my top tips:

Make sure you're ticking off the sleep hygiene checklist

And I mean all of it! You can exponentially increase your chances of improving your difficulty sleeping, if you're doing everything you can to improve your sleeping environment.

And the best thing? They're simple measures which you can implement right now in your bedroom.

To make your lives easier, you can download a free sleep hygiene checklist courtesy of Ask Doctor Jad.

What are you waiting for? Download it now and make your lives that much easier!

Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I), also known as CBT for insomnia, is often recommended as the initial treatment approach for chronic insomnia.

"Why?", I hear you ask.

CBT-I is thought to be at least equally as effective as sleep medications, but without the side effects and it addresses the underlying issues stopping you from getting to sleep. And trust me, there are usually lots of underlying issues that CBT-I works wonders for.

In as little as 4-6 sessions, you can start to notice some incredible changes in the quality of your sleep.

CBT-I can be broken down into two parts: cognitive and behavioral. As the name suggests.

The cognitive component of CBT-I assists in identifying and altering thoughts that hinder a good night's sleep. It also addresses the vicious cycle of stress over sleep leading to difficulty sleeping, a situation many are familiar with.

The behavioral aspect of CBT-I focuses on establishing positive behaviors for better sleep and avoiding negative behaviors that interfere with restful sleep.

Therapists employ various strategies to achieve better sleep, including:

  • Relaxation techniques to manage mood, muscle tension, breathing, and heart rate for a peaceful night's sleep.
  • Sleep restriction therapy to increase sleepiness and promote a healthier sleep pattern.
  • Stimulus control therapy to break the association between bed and wakefulness, establish set bedtimes, and avoid napping.
  • Passive wakefulness, where the person gets into bed and remains awake, which paradoxically can lead to sleep.
  • Light therapy, utilizing natural light or a light box to improve sleep patterns.

This provides just a brief overview of the extensive work therapists perform to assist individuals struggling with insomnia.

You can read more about CBT-I here.

Therapists not only excel at treating insomnia, they can also effectively address the frequent conoccurrent issues such as depression and anxiety. And they have the potential to help you too. It's like a one-stop-shop!

The key is to find a reputable therapist, which can be challenging. Ensure the therapist is licensed, adequately trained, and capable of customizing therapy to meet your specific needs.

Luckily, Ask Doctor Jad has done the hard work to find the top-performing online therapy service currently available.

Click here to learn how to improve your sleep and mental health with BetterHelp.

BetterHelp is a user-friendly and cost-effective online mental health service providing access to high-quality therapists.

The process starts with a comprehensive questionnaire, which assists in pairing you with a therapist that aligns with your needs.

The therapists at BetterHelp are thoroughly vetted to guarantee you receive the best online therapy available.

Therapy is a commonly recommended approach, whether you're dealing with insomnia and/or other mental health challenges.

Click here to start improving your sleep with a 15% discount off your first month.

Sleep supplements

Before we start, please remember to see your doctor before trying or changing any treatment, whether it's over-the-counter or not. Okay? Thanks.

There are various OTC (over-the-counter) supplements available to aid in sleep. Many of these supplements contain antihistamines, primarily used for allergy treatment but also as sleep medication due to their sedative properties. Some of the antihistamines commonly used as sleep aids are Benadryl (diphenhydramine), Unisom (doxylamine), Piriton (chlorphenamine), promethazine, hydroxyzine, and cinnarizine.

Although antihistamines are useful for some individuals, they come with side effects that may not be worth the trouble for many people. These side effects include daytime drowsiness, impaired coordination and reaction time, reduced judgement, dry mouth, blurred vision, and difficulty urinating. Taking these medications may prohibit driving or operating machinery, making them less appealing to some people.

So what's the best alternative? Melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone naturally produced in the brain by the pineal gland. It's stimulated by darkness and suppressed by light, helping regulate the circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle for quality sleep.

Synthetic melatonin supplements mimic the effects of natural melatonin. It is important to be well informed about melatonin as there is a lot of misinformation out there. You can check out more details here if you want to learn more.

Melatonin optimizes your body clock, which promotes your body's natural processes to get you to sleep. It doesn't magically make you fall asleep, but it helps your body do what it does best.

One of the many advantages of melatonin is that it has limited side effects when used as directed. Some people may experience daytime drowsiness, dizziness, or headaches, but these effects are not common.

The most important thing to remember is that there are plenty of dodgy products out there, so you have to pick the right one. Otherwise best case scenario, you get scammed out of your hard earned money; and worst case scenario, you could come to some harm.

One of the better options is Sleep Support Plus. What I like about this product is its honesty - it doesn't claim to be a magic solution for your sleeping woes. They (rightfully) say that it's a solution for occasional sleepiness and leave it at that.

We like honesty.

The other key ingredients of Sleep Support Plus are:

  • Tryptophan - a dietary essential amino acid that boosts melatonin and serotonin production
  • Goji berry - for promoting feelings of tranquility
  • Lemon balm - for promoting feelings of calmness and reducing anxiety
  • Chamomile - to help with relaxation, as I can personally back up as a big fan of chamomile tea!
  • Valerian - a herb that helps alleviate stress.

Click here to learn more.

What should I do now?

Firstly, give yourself a pat on the back. You can now answer the question "how much sleep do I need?" with confidence!

And just as importantly, you also know how to get the right amount of sleep and how to ensure it's of the highest quality.

So, to sum up, you should now take the following steps (after seeing a doctor):

Take good care of yourselves and be patient. Improving your sleep is a marathon, not a sprint. But with persistence and by following the right steps, most people will get there in time.

And when you need a bit of extra help, Ask Doctor Jad is here for you too.