Hours of Sleep: What Your Body Needs & Why
Americans are tired: 50-70 million of us from all age groups have sleep-related problems. It’s a huge problem, but it’s often misunderstood.
There are a lot of questions surrounding sleep: How much sleep do we really need? What keeps us from sleeping enough or sleeping well? Do you even know how much sleep you should be getting?
Not getting enough high-quality sleep can have devastating consequences like driving while tired. Getting behind the wheel without proper sleep can lead to slower reaction times and even dozing off, also known as highway hypnosis. How can you avoid highway hypnosis, and how does your sleep fit into that equation?
Finding the answer to these questions can remove some of the misunderstandings around sleep and set everyone up, no matter their age, for sleep success.
Why is sleep so important?
It seems like people have an obsession with sleep. People wake up tired, everyone is thinking about diving back into bed by lunchtime, and most conversations start with some variation of, “Man, I’m tired . . .”
The truth is, it’s not an obsession. Sleep is a scientific and biological need. It’s essential to the physical and mental well-being of every human being. Sleep allows the body and mind to relax and recharge.
Getting healthy sleep, both in number and quality, has enormous, positive effects on us. Good sleep means better overall health and lower risk for serious diseases, weight management, mental clarity, reduced stress and mood, and better coping skills.
Sleep isn’t just something we do to pass the hours late at night. It’s part of how our bodies are meant to function. But sleep isn’t one size fits all.
How much sleep do we really need?
The amount of sleep each person needs depends largely on their age. There are other factors that add to or subtract from the established daily sleep allotment, but these ranges are average for most people within each age group.
The youngest of us need the most sleep. Newborns aged 0 to 3 months need between 14 and 17 hours of sleep each day. These hours often come sporadically and the quality of those hours is different than any other age group, but the amount is essential.
Newborns are growing at such a rapid rate that they need the time to rest and recharge while they grow, develop, and learn. Without this large amount of sleep, newborns can get cranky and struggle to reach weight milestones.
The next group is infants. These kids are aged 4 to 11 months old. They are a little bit older but still need a lot of sleep. It’s recommended that infants get between 12 and 15 hours of sleep per day.
At this age, infants have moved away from newborn-style sleep, and most of these hours will come during the night. There are still a few hours during the day for nap times, though.
Once children reach 1 year old they are considered a toddler. At this age, and until they get 2 years of age, children need between 11 and 14 hours of sleep every day. The vast majority of these hours come at night, but there might still be a nap or two throughout the day.
Between 3 and 5 years of age, children are considered preschool age. It’s at this point that children are spending at least a couple of hours a day in school. This adds another layer of importance to their sleep.
Children in this age group need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep each day.
School-age children between 6 and 13 years old spend the majority of their day in school. They are learning, planning, and experiencing life, so they need plenty of good quality sleep.
At this age, children need between 9 and 11 hours of sleep every night. At this point, most children do not nap anymore, so getting a solid bedtime routine is important.
Teens are known for sleeping a lot. Many parents complain of their teen sleeping until noon whenever possible. The truth is, however, teens need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every day. But there’s no guarantee the teens will stick to this range.
As we move into adulthood, we lose the need for long hours of sleep. This doesn’t mean we don’t all want 10 or more hours of sleep every night, but it’s not a physical need. In fact, young and more mature adults, 18 to 64 years old, need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep.
For adults who are 65 years or older, the amount of sleep is only slightly different. This group of individuals needs between 7 and 8 hours of sleep every day.
What’s the matter with our sleep?
Knowing the recommended amount of sleep you need is only one very small part of the equation. The biggest struggle is actually getting that amount of sleep. Most Americans simply don’t get enough sleep and then suffer the consequences.
The increasing availability of electricity and electronics has caused a similar decrease in the number of hours people are getting every night. Our phones, computers, and tablets emit an artificial, blue light that tricks our internal clocks. This means we aren’t able to settle down and fall asleep.
Electricity and our electronics aren’t going anywhere, so it’s important to figure out how to get enough sleep in spite of these struggles. There are a handful of ways to combat some of the demands and stresses of life to get back to bed.
- Bedroom lights should be low and the temperature should be comfortable.
- Invest in your sleep. Purchase the right mattress, pillows, and sheets to encourage quality sleep.
- Minimize alcohol, caffeine, and large meals before bed.
- Maintain an exercise
- Pick a realistic bedtime and stick to it as much as possible.
- Take a device break. Turn electronics off at a set time each night, and keep them out of your bedroom.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
We all know that not getting enough sleep leaves us feeling tired, but what else happens when we don’t get the right amount of sleep?
Not getting enough sleep can mean impaired memory, strained relationships, and a decreased quality of life. Lack of sleep puts a strain on just about every aspect of our lives. But the biggest concern comes while driving.
Driving while tired puts you at a higher risk of receiving your first speeding ticket or getting into a car accident. Even missing an hour and a half of sleep seriously decreases alertness and reaction time. The more technical term is highway hypnosis — fatigue while driving long distances.
The best way to minimize the risk of highway hypnosis and potential car accidents is to get a good night’s sleep before driving anywhere. If you are about to start a long road trip then consider these tips:
- Play loud music.
- Practice good driving posture.
- Roll down the car windows or keep the car cold.
- Start your road trip early.
Sleep is something we all crave, but it’s more than that. Sleep is a necessity. It’s important to get the right amount of sleep each night and try everything possible to make sure those hours are high quality.
About the Author:
Laura Gunn writes and researches the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsurance.org. Laura is working through the struggles of having an infant who hates sleep while trying to get sleep the right amount of sleep herself.