Forgetful? Cranky? More sleep can restore you to normal.
In a fast-paced world filled with many demands on your time, sleep might well end up on the low end of your list of priorities. Though your body is physically at rest while you sleep, a flurry of activity is occurring that helps keep you healthy. Inadequate sleep does more than make you cranky, forgetful and accident-prone. It can also increase your risk for many serious health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity and poor immune system function. While adequate sleep is clearly important to your good health, how much is enough?
Average Sleep Recommendations
While the question seems simple, how much sleep is the right amount is complex. Your age is an important factor, but there is also individual variability. The National Sleep Foundation convened a panel of renowned experts to review medical research and determine how much sleep is ideal for people in specific age ranges.
Their conclusions — published in March 2015 in the journal Sleep Health — made these recommendations for daily sleep requirements for adults:
- Age 18 to 64 years: 7 to 9 hours
- Age 65 and older: 7 to 8 hours
These recommendations represent averages. But the National Sleep Foundation panel also noted that the range of what might be acceptable and healthy for individuals is much broader.
In your experience with family or in talking with friends, you have probably discovered there is individual variability in how much sleep different people need to feel rested and well. This observation is revealed in sleep research, which shows that your genes affect how much sleep you need — and whether you tend to be a morning person or a night owl. So the typical recommendation of roughly 8 hours of sleep each night might not be applicable to you because of your genetic makeup. Recognizing this, the National Sleep Foundation noted a broader range of what could be optimal for different men and women.
- Age 18 to 24: 6 to 11 hours
- Age 25 to 64: 6 to 10 hours
- Age 65 and older: 5 to 9 hours
What Is Right for You?
Your body is wise and will send you signals if you're not getting the right amount of sleep. The trick is learning to recognize those signals — and not ignoring them. Some key signals that you might not be getting enough sleep include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Making mistakes in your work or having difficulty concentrating
- Slow reaction time or reduced coordination
- Increased appetite
- Irritability, anxiety or moodiness
- Frequent colds or other infections
Addressing the Problem
Getting the right amount of sleep is an essential component of good health — every bit as important as adequate food and water. If you're experiencing symptoms that could be related to inadequate sleep, talk with your doctor.
For some people, conditions such as sleep apnea or menopause might be the culprit. These situations can be addressed with appropriate treatment. If a medical condition is ruled out, making changes in your habits might be all you need to get adequate sleep. Simple changes that can be greatly beneficial in getting enough sleep include:
- Following a regular bedtime
- Not keeping electronic devices nearby while you sleep
- Avoiding strenuous exercise in the hours before bedtime
- Not drinking alcohol or eating in the hours leading up to your bedtime
What changes can you make to get the amount of sleep you need?
Tina M. St. John runs a health communications and consulting firm. She is also an author and editor, and was formerly a senior medical officer with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. St. John holds an M.D. from Emory University School of Medicine.