Everyone believes people needs 8 hours of sleep. That’s what we were told when we were kids. In fact, everyone except babies and toddlers are expected to stick to this completely arbitrary number of sleeping hours. It is no surprise we’re all deep in sleep debt. We just can’t seem to stay on top of our days!
Misconceptions abound about sleep and healthy sleeping routines. But there are facts one can rely on, obtained scientifically. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute carries a detailed guide on their website about how much need one needs to function optimally. The statistics come from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and are endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It also has a neat note about sleep debt, what it is and how you can calculate it.
But before we jump to the statistics, let us quickly go through factors that may cause/need you to deviate from the recommended or your usual hours of sleep.
What causes changes in sleep requirements?
Nobody is immune from stress. In fact, stress is an unrecognized epidemic in contemporary times. A little bit of stress can do good to the body, but a lot of stress throws the entire system off rhythm.
One major way the human body neutralises stress is via sleep. Anecdotally, you might discover people sleeping in on their most important days of school or work, as well as days they take big decisions in their social or emotional lives. A high stress situation may cause you to lose sleep as well, or have less restful sleep even if it lasts your usual number of hours. This can influence your sleep debt.
Some medication can cause drowsiness. Medicines containing opioids, alcohol or other such substances are held directly responsible for tiredness and feelings of languidity that may follow consumption. Then, there are medication that can cause you to stay awake or have a less restful sleep. The effect of reduced sleep can also be felt as higher amount of stress one may have to deal with. This makes it essential to stem debt before it grows to an inconvenient size.
Mental debilitation like depression and anxiety have been linked to erratic sleep patterns. Keeping aside the stress that plays a major role in how things play out in these conditions, whether or not they may be curable, patients often report feeling tired and drained throughout their day, no matter how much they sleep. It might not indicate a sleep debt if someone suffering from a mental illness feels drowsy, and it may be healthy to sleep longer than other people. However, when it comes to such illnesses, things are more complicated than how much one sleeps. A psychologist or trained medical professional’s advice should be given topmost priority to seek as well as to follow.
The body drains quickly when it is recovering from an illness or trying to fight off an oncoming one. That’s why people prefer to sleep in when they’re down with the flu. There is no absolute number on hours one is allowed to add to their sleep schedule either. Sleep till you wake up on your own, accruing no sleep debt.
Intake of various foods can aid or hamper sleep. Coffee, for example, is well known for giving a boost to the brain and making it feel energised even when you’re tired. Therefore, coffee is one among the several foods that are best avoided right before sleep. Of the other hand, warm milk contains tryptophan which can help one sleep. It joins other foods like the humble banana in the list of foods that can make one sleep better.
There is another aspect of food one must consider. Your digestive system behaves differently when you’re asleep. Your stomach works slower. Acid reflux and other such inconveniences are therefore common. You can be robbed of restful sleep by the short bursts on acrid stomach acid in your mouth. Eating a diet that is quick to digest at night, coupled with an hour or two of activity after the evening meal can better your chances of restful sleep.
The final criteria is one we have discussed often on this blog and website, which is bedroom environment. If your brightly painted walls catch the morning sun and startle your eyes out of slumber, it is upsetting. Kids get cranky on wetting the bed, and therefore a rubber sheet to prevent the mattress from soaking the liquid of getting a decent hypoallergenic, easy to clean kids mattress can make them rest a lot more peacefully through the night.
How much you (and your kids) need to sleep according to age
Recommended Amount of Sleep
|Infants aged 4-12 months||12-16 hours a day (including naps)|
|Children aged 1-2 years||11-14 hours a day (including naps)|
|Children aged 3-5 years||10-13 hours a day (including naps)|
|Children aged 6-12 years||9-12 hours a day|
|Teens aged 13-18 years||8-10 hours a day|
|Adults aged 18 years or older||7–8 hours a day|
Infants (upto 1 year) : 12-16 hours every day
Infants are the sleepiest of the lot. And for good reason. Their brains are developing at a phenomenal rate, and all that hustle bustle in the head takes up energy. Infants need to be put down to rest every few hours, and it is essential to not keep them awake when they’re sleepy or they’ll get overtired. An overtired infant becomes cranky, because even though they’re tired, they can’t put themselves to sleep.
If you as a parent need your kid to sleep peacefully through the night, you can gradually condition the infant to sleep later at night so they wake up closer to the morning when you’re going to get up anyway.
Toddlers (1 to 2 years) : 11-14 hours every day
As babies grow and their brains begin to settle down in terms of rate of development, there is less tiredness. And as they begin to waddle into the world, their appetite for new experience causes them to be forever energetic and eager to explore. Despite that, toddlers need their sleep. As kids grow older, they can become fussy sleepers. Putting them to sleep can be a task, but their growing body and brain both need it.
Pre-school kids (3 to 5 years) : 10 – 13 hours every day
In my experience, pre-schoolers are the most difficult to put to sleep. They are almost never tired, and they always want another bedtime story, another snack, another glass of water. It can be frustrating, but it is important to be patient with your kids at this stage. It is also essential to have a degree of strictness, since pre-school kids can find themselves up and eager to run about the moment the sun comes up, not caring about how much rest they’re getting.
Pre-teens (6 – 12 years) : 9 – 12 hours a day
Kids between 6 and 12 years of age are fairly straightforward to figure out. They need to be sent to school, helped through homework and lavished with love. Kids at this age learn about social complexities with new relationships as friends, students and more. Their sleep requirements are slowly nearing those of the average adult, but they’re not quite there yet.
Teens (13 – 18 years) : 8 -10 hours a day
Teens often crave being treated like adults, but as far as their bodies go, they are yet to become adults. The spurt of hormones in the blood following the onset of puberty brings about a host of changes to their bodies as well as brains, as everyone knows. This ups their sleep requirements too. A teenager sleeping in is not bad. However, too much sleep (going beyond 10 hours consistently for quite a few days together) shouldn’t be taken lightly. It may signify a problem, be it physical, mental or social. It is wise to talk to your teen about it, or visit a counselor.
Adults : 7 – 8 hours a day
Adults are commonly advised to rest 8 hours, and while that is adequate for many, if not most, there is certainly nothing to worry about if you need a little less or more sleep to feel comfortable and well rested. All the factors we discussed earlier may be used to understand why you’re sleeping differently than you used to or compared to others. It may also be prudent to visit a medical professional if you feel the need to. Problems such as sleep apnea, acid reflux and backache may reduce quality of sleep.
Elderly (beyond 60) : 8 – 9 hours a day
As people grow older, they tend to be a little more tired than usual. This is completely normal, and it can be prudent to change your expectation of sleeping for the exact amount you slept when you were 25. Anywhere between one to two hours of sleep may be needed in addition to the amount you slept when you were younger.