How Much Should You Sleep?

Restfulness is one of the most elusive things in modern society. It seems like no one is getting enough sleep these days. But how much is enough in the first place? Nine hours has long been the widely accepted position, but recent research has shown that the optimal amount varies by age range, as well as other factors, namely when people sleep (e.g. sleep is more restful when done during the night than during the day, even if the amount is the same).

The National Sleep Foundation, an American nonprofit organization, released new guidelines on the preferred amount of sleep for the average person of a given age range. Based on a two-year study, as well as a meta-analysis of hundreds of other studies by leading sleep experts, the ground has offered the following recommendations:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours (previously 12-18)
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (previously 14-15)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (previously 12-14)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (previously 11-13)
  • School-age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (previously 10-11)
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (previously 8.5-9.5)
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours (previously the same)
  • Older adults (65 and older): 7-8 hours (new age category)

More from The Atlantic:

These new recommendations do little in the way of upsetting the old, with minor variations and clarifications for older adults and young children. And the numbers may vary among people with medical conditions, and among the few outliers who still function optimally outside of these ranges. But these are the amounts that the panel wants people to consider “rules of thumb.” The issuance of new guidelines, however familiar they are, serves at least in an effort toward awareness amid an ongoing public-health effort to rebrand sleep deprivation as less of a testament to mettle and more of a serious medical hazard.

The evidence against too much sleep is not as strong as the evidence against too little, though getting too much sleep has been linked with increased risk of near-term mortality. Still some experts argue that it’s unclear if sleeping beyond nine hours is inherently dangerous to adults. In relation to poor health and failure to thrive, deviating from these sleep ranges can either be a cause or an effect.

In practical terms, the panel also reminds people, familiarly, of the benefits of avoiding caffeine and alcohol in the hours before bed, exercising as a means to better sleep, and the reprehensibility of bringing a phone into bed. Because ultimately, the National Sleep Foundation implores us today, evoking the scythe: “Humans, like all animals, need sleep, along with food, water, and oxygen, to survive.”

Speaking for myself, seven hours seems to be the magic number. Any more or less and I feel “off” in some way. I can also attest to the importance of avoiding technology — especially screens — at least an hour before bed. Since I have cut back on that bad habit (for the most part) and upped my physical activity, I have been enjoying far more restful sleep — which in turn has markedly improved my anxiety, depression, and ability to concentrate.

What have your experiences been?

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