The Eight-Hour Myth
We’ve all been told that we should get eight hours of sleep per night. This information is an average, and might not be a perfect fit for everyone. Some may need more sleep, and others less, and our needs may actually change through the years.
Short vs Long Sleepers
Everyone has a sleep need that is likely determined by our genes. This need is the amount of sleep our body requires for us to wake up feeling refreshed. This likely occurs across a spectrum, with "short-sleepers" needing less than average and "long-sleepers" needing more.
Changing Needs Across a Lifetime
The average amount of sleep needed changes over our lifetime, especially during childhood and adolescence. Although there are averages, there will be individuals who fall both above and below these needs:
- Infants (3-11 months) need 14-15 hours
- Toddlers (12-35 months) need 12-14 hours
- Preschoolers (3-6 years) need 11-13 hours
- School age (6-10 years) need 10-11 hours
- Adolescents (11-18 years) need 9.25 hours
- Adults need an average of 8 hours
- Elderly adults may need less
What happens if we don’t meet our sleep needs? By not getting enough sleep, we accumulate a sleep debt that we usually have to "pay off." This might involve extra sleep by napping, going to bed early, or sleeping in to catch up. If we sleep less than our body needs to feel refreshed and don’t catch up we might experience:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Poor thinking
- Increased risk of accidents
- Other health complications (i.e., weight gain)
How Can I Determine My Sleep Needs?
There is an easy way to determine how much sleep you need. Follow these steps:
- Set aside a week or two that you can focus on your sleep and not allow disruptions or changes to your sleep schedule.
- Select a typical bedtime and stick with it, night after night.
- Allow yourself to sleep in as long as you want, awakening without an alarm clock in the morning.
- After a few days, you will have paid off your sleep debt, and you will begin to approach the average amount of sleep that you need.
- Once you determine your need, try to set your bedtime at an hour that will allow you the sleep you need, while still waking up in time to start your day.