Sleep Needs Vary by Age—Here’s What Experts Recommend for Optimum Energy During the 9 Stages of Life
Myriad factors can affect the quantity and quality of sleep you get, like your eating schedule, the position that you sleep in, and what you consume before bed. And since sleep deprivation is connected to several health risks, including anxiety and depression, getting enough sleep is a crucial component of your health. How much sleep one should get isn’t the most straightforward question to answer— since sleep needs shift with age.
“As we get older, we start to need less sleep,” sleep expert Sophie Bostock, PhD, says in a video focused on how much sleep we need as we age. And according to guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation, that number depends on which of nine different stages of life a person is in: newborn (0 to 3 months), infant (4 to 11 months), toddler (1 to 2 years), preschool (3 to 4 years), school-age (5 to 12 years), teen (13 to 17 years), young adult (18 to 25 years), adult (25 to-65 years), and older adult (65-plus years).
One big reason sleep needs change over time is the developmental changes that come with growing. “Infants and children require more sleep than adults due to the processes that support neurological development and growth. Once we achieve adulthood, the requirement for sleep does not significantly change,” says sleep medicine doctor Tracey L. Stierer, MD, FAASM, an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Stierer adds that the guideline for folks over 18 is seven to nine hours of sleep, decreasing to seven to eight hours after age 65.
“Infants and children require more sleep than adults due to the processes that support neurological development and growth.” —Tracey L. Stierer, MD
Sleep doctor Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep advisor at sleep-health technology company Oura, adds that before age 18, the reasons we need more sleep are "due to developmental milestones and growth patterns." After age 18, people tend to require different amounts of sleep because of “medical issues, environment, [and] substance abuse,” in addition to age. But ultimately, the amount of sleep a person needs—whether they're a 'short sleeper' and don't need more than a few hours or the human incarnation of Sleeping Beauty—is the amount that makes them feel healthy and rested.
"I always try to explain to people that the amount of sleep you need is personalized to you,” says Dr. Breus. If that amount is evading you, seeking the treatment of a trained medical professional may be advised. With that in mind, read on to find out how much sleep is recommended for each stage of life to feel most energized.
How To Determine Sleep Needs by Age
Newborns, infants, preschoolers, and school-age kids: 9 to 17 hours
“Prior to birth, [babies] spend almost all of their time sleeping,” says Dr. Stierer, who adds that this largely continues in their first weeks of life. “Newborns continue to sleep most of the night and day, awakening every one to three hours to feed and averaging 14 to 17 hours or more of sleep in a 24-hour period.”
As the baby grows, they require less frequent feeding, and—at around four months—they’ll only need 12 to 15 hours of sleep per day, according to the National Sleep Foundation. By the age of one, the National Sleep Foundation notes that most toddlers can sleep 10 to 12 hours nightly without waking, in addition to one or two naps for a total of 11 to 14 hours of daily sleep.
“Toddlers, who typically nap once in the morning and once in the afternoon, will usually transition to just one nap in the afternoon at about 18 months,” Dr. Stierer says. “Preschoolers ages 3 to 5 need about 10 to 13 hours, which includes the afternoon nap. Preschoolers aged 3 to 5 years need about 10 to 13 hours, which includes the afternoon nap. And by 6 years old, most children stop napping and should sleep 9 to 12 hours at night.”
Adolescents: 8 to 10 hours
“Teenagers typically need eight to 10 hours of sleep every night,” says Dr. Bostock, who adds that few folks in this life stage tend to actually clock that recommended sleep quantity, in light of increasing responsibilities and worries that can make getting a good night’s sleep more difficult.
“By the age of 12, it is not uncommon to see children have more than one night per week with insufficient sleep,” says Dr. Stierer. “Only about half of all children in the US get the recommended nine hours of sleep per night, with teenagers being the highest percentage of those with chronic insufficient sleep.”
Adolescence also tends to mark a shift in a person's circadian rhythm, also known as their natural day-night body clock. “It is delayed, meaning they are wired to go to bed later and awaken later in the day,” says Dr. Stierer.
Adults: 7 to 9 hours
“Once we’ve reached adulthood at 18 years and older, we need seven to nine hours of sleep per night on average—although this may vary for certain individuals,” says Dr. Stierer.
She adds that “with even more responsibilities, adults have similar issues as children when it comes to competing priorities and poor sleep habits. In addition, [adults also] battle physiological causes such as sleep apnea, gastroesophageal reflux, sleepwalking, and other parasomnias.” Menopause can also wreak havoc on an otherwise good night’s sleep, says Dr. Stierer.
Seniors: 7 to 8 hours
“Once we are around 60 years old, much like teenagers, our circadian rhythm shifts, but in the opposite direction,” says Dr. Stierer. “Around the age of 65, we become less like the teenage ‘night owl’ and more like a ‘morning lark,’ meaning that this age group gravitates toward earlier bedtimes and wake times.”
Indicators that we need more sleep—at any age
“The outward signs of insufficient sleep may include irritability, problems with memory and concentrating, changes in mood, difficulty staying awake, decreased motivation, and slowed reaction time,” says Dr. Stierer.
Once you notice these symptoms, Dr. Bostock recommends two things to get your sleep needs in check—no matter your age. First: “Go to sleep when you feel sleepy, and don’t set an alarm. After a few nights of catching up on any sleep debt, you should settle into your natural sleep window,” says Dr. Bostock.
The second is more of an experiment: “Track your sleep for at least a week using a wearable tracker or just a pen and paper diary. Then experiment with moving your bedtime forward by about 20 minutes. See what happens for two weeks.” From there, you have a better idea of how much sleep you need and what your ideal bedtime is.
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