Breaking Down Sleeping Needs by Age

Ever wondered how much sleep you need in order to feel good the next morning? Age has a lot to do with your recommended nightly sleep needs.
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    We all define a good night’s sleep in different ways. A teenager may say the best night’s sleep he or she ever had was after waking up at noon on a Saturday, while a new parent may quantify good sleep the first time their newborn slept without crying through the night. Regardless, age is a primary factor in determining the amount of quality sleep an individual needs.

    When it comes to sleeping well, it’s a healthy habit to shoot for a specific amount of sleep per night. As a general rule of thumb, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the following nightly sleep times for each age group:

    Age Group Age Hours of Sleep Per Day
    Infant 4 to 12 months 12 to 16 hours (including naps)
    Toddler 1 to 2 years 11 to 14 hours (including naps)
    Pre-School 3 to 5 years 10 to 13 hours (including naps)
    School Age 6 to 12 years 9 to 12 hours
    Teenager 12 to 18 years 8 to 10 hours
    Adult 18 to 60 years 7 hours minimum

    But what really is the right number of hours of sleep, depending on how old you are? And do you sleep more as you age? Your age is not the only important factor in determining the proper amount of sleep you should strive for each night.

    How Much Sleep Do I Need?

    A woman sleeping in white sheets.

    It’s important to acknowledge that following the recommended amount of sleep per night is important, but it is not the only step in obtaining quality sleep. A 2018 study from Nat Sci Sleep explained multiple other factors, including genetics, athleticism and even individual circadian rhythms all fall into the same pool of determining how much sleep an individual needs each night. Optimal sleep, the study states, is a complex term.

    Below, we’ve broken down how much sleep you’ll need depending on how old you are, and we’ll explain why different life stages require a certain number of hours of rest per night. Plus, we’ll include helpful ways to sleep better.

    Babies

    Among all age brackets, babies sleep the most and require the most sleep. When you first bring a baby home from the hospital, you’ll realize that he or she rarely sleeps through the night. Newborns will generally wake up every couple of hours, due to feeding needs. Overall, most people try to get their infants to sleep between 12 and 16 hours per day.

    You can expect your child to sleep through the night by four to six months old, but if he or she still experiences sleeping difficulties, you might need to consult a doctor.

    Signs of Lost Sleep: A repeated resistance to sleep schedule

    How to Improve Sleep: Schedule your baby’s sleep routine around feedings. As best you can, rest when your baby rests.

    Toddlers & Preschoolers

    Once children reach a year old, they are more likely to sleep through the night and will hopefully agree to taking naps to add to their recommended 11-14 hours of sleep per day. Toddlers experience a significant amount of both physical and emotional development during the months after infancy, and for some, it’s the first time they’ve interacted with other kids their age.

    Preschoolers, who need about 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day, also need to break their sleep up by incorporating naptime. That’s how they make up for the hours they wake up during the night, so it’s important to set a daily nap routine and make sure bedtime stays the same throughout the week.

    Signs of Lost Sleep: Night terrors, avoiding bedtime

    How to Improve Sleep: Offer your child a security item or read a book with them before bed to prevent nightmares. Encouraging naps during and after daycare can also help meet their daily recommended sleep time.

    School-Age Kids

    Starting school is a big step for children and their parents, as it’s the beginning of wonderful friendships and learning new things. It’s also one of the most common times for a person to develop a sleeping disorder.

    With piles of homework, extracurricular responsibilities and busy schedules, schoolchildren are susceptible to losing sleep over time. The stages of puberty and the years that lead up to them require children in this age group to sleep at least 9 to 11 hours per night. With early school hours, reaching this recommendation can often become a problem. At this young age, quality sleep helps promote good physical and mental health in growing children.

    Signs of Lost Sleep: Mood swings and cognitive or behavioral problems

    How to Improve Sleep: To promote healthy sleep at this stage, encourage your children to complete their schoolwork early and on-time, limit their caffeine intake, and create a reliable bedtime schedule.

    Teenagers

    A girl asleep on a desk with a laptop, books, an iPhone and black glasses.

    During the teenage years, especially late adolescence when the body’s internal clock prepares for adulthood, sleep is critical for healthy brain and body development. Lots of teens rarely get enough sleep and will then try to make up for lost sleep on weekends when they don’t have to go to early classes. Teenage years are a common time for mental health issues to develop, too; losing sleep only feeds into the development of those illnesses.

    In order for teens to feel recharged for school and reduce their risk in developing various mental illnesses, it’s critical for them to sleep an average of 8 to 10 hours per night.

    Michael Crocetti, a Johns Hopkins pediatrician, suggests teens strive to get 9 to 9.5 hours of rest each night to support their “second developmental stage of cognitive maturation.” Dr. Crocetti also argues that good sleep can protect teenagers from depression and drug use. So, sleep should be at the center of a teen’s life in order for him or her develop healthily into the next stage of life.

    Signs of Lost Sleep: Feelings that align with depression and anxiety, such as unhappiness, hopelessness or nervousness; sleeping late on weekends

    How to Improve Sleep: Limit evening TV and phone time; sleep earlier on weekdays

    Early Adulthood

    Early adulthood is a time where people have many important decisions to make that will affect the rest of their lives. During early adulthood, most people head off to college or begin new jobs to head start their careers. These are often times when obtaining the recommended minimum of 7 hours per night becomes difficult for various reasons.

    A freshman in college may have a hard time prioritizing sleep when studying and making new friends feels like more of a priority. A new employee at an entry-level job may work long hours to prove strong work ethic, which often leaves little time for proper rest at night. Obtaining at least seven hours of rest each night can help prevent these health conditions from developing into later adulthood.

    The 7-hours-per-night recommendation is rooted in the fact that sleep is essential in the last years of brain development. Most researchers and people alike agree that the human brain reaches development by age 25. The National Sleep Foundation states that with various sleep conditions, like Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), often come more problems like high blood pressure, headaches and depression.

    Signs of Lost Sleep: Habits of going to sleep late and waking up early; irritability; restless sleep

    How to Improve Sleep: Prioritize your to-do list and meet your daily tasks by completing them as they come; eat healthy foods and go to bed at the same time each night; consult a doctor if sleep patterns turn into chronic sleep loss.

    Middle and Late Adulthood

    Middle and late adulthood often comes with responsibilities surrounding work, home and retirement planning. And, unfortunately, insomnia is more common among older adults than other age groups, according to the National Sleep Foundation.

    As a person ages into middle and late adulthood, it’s important to consider other health conditions, like depression, and how sleep could either positively or negatively contribute to them. It’s no surprise then, that older people wake up an average of three to four times per night, according to MedlinePlus.

    Sleep and health changes also increase susceptibility to common sleep disorders, like insomnia, narcolepsy and sleep apnea. Generally, as a person ages, sleep patterns change and recommended hours per night decrease to a 7-hour minimum. Not all adults sleep seven hours each night, though.

    Signs of Lost Sleep: Chronic sleep loss that could result in a sleep disorder

    How to Improve Sleep: Keep open communication with your doctor and maintain a healthy diet and routine sleep schedule.

    Scheduling Your Sleep

    A blue alarm clock, with two silver alarms and black hands, sitting against a white wall.

    Now that you know the recommended amount of sleep you should be getting each day, you may wonder how to obtain those hours. After all, what good is all of this information unless it’s actually attainable?

    One of the best ways to get better sleep is to schedule bedtimes and wake up times and adhere to them as best you can. If you’re experiencing frequent bouts of bad or restless sleep, you may want to see if your sleep revolves around routine or not.

    It turns out, scheduling your sleep is a critical component of sleeping well long-term. This means making a habit of going to bed and waking up at the same time each night. Obviously, this strategy will be more attainable for some people rather than others, but it will ultimately train your brain and body to stick to a reliable rhythm of healthy sleep patterns.

    If you believe you are not getting adequate sleep each night and experience symptoms of chronic sleep loss, it may be time to consult with your doctor.

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