Common lore would have you believe that everyone needs seven to nine hours of sleep a night to feel their best—and for the majority of adults, that’s true. However, there is (unfortunately!) no one-size-fits-all answer. Many factors (like age, your body’s base or innate need for sleep, age, sleep quality, pregnancy, and sleep debt) play a role in establishing your particular “magic number.” As you age, your sleep needs change — older adults may need less sleep, seven to eight hours after age 65, for example, than their younger counterparts.
Sleep needs are individual, and change as you age. Newborns, for example, need a total of 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day. Infants need 12 to 15 hours a day, and teens need 8 to 10 hours.
Ask yourself three questions to figure out whether the amount you’re currently getting is enough to keep you healthy and happy.
1. How long does it take you to fall asleep? In an ideal world, you should fall asleep 15 to 20 minutes after you hit the sheets. If you lay awake, longer, a number of factors could contribute – anxiety, caffeine, a large meal or even (gasp!) too much sleep. On the other hand, if you barely make it to the bed before nodding off, you’re probably not sleeping enough.
2. Do you need an alarm to wake up? If you’re almost always awake before your alarm goes off, or if you’re waking up multiple times during the night (and it’s not due to drinking too many liquids before bed, sipping on coffee or alcohol in the evening or an underlying sleep problem or medical condition), your brain may be trying to tell you that it’s had enough sleep. Alternatively, if you struggle to wake up in the morning when the alarm goes off, you most likely need more sleep or need to adjust your sleep schedule.
3. How do you feel? Keep a daily sleep diary by using a free or low-cost app on your smart phone or tablet. If you don’t like gadgets and would rather do it the old-fashioned way, grab a journal or the National Sleep Foundation Sleep Diary and write down what time you go to bed and get up, along with how you feel during the day. This will help you notice patterns and figure out which type of sleep routine suits you best. Don’t ignore feelings of fatigue, moodiness or anxiety—this could be your body’s way of telling you that you need more slumber.
You might find that you’re already getting an optimal amount of sleep (if so, bravo!), but when that’s not the case, take action.
Although it’s rare, there are people who get too much sleep. If you’re one of them, push your bedtime later in 15-minute increments. If you’re getting too little sleep, do the opposite—push your bedtime earlier in 15-minute increments. If you’ve tried this for several weeks and you still don’t wake up feeling refreshed, talk to your doctor to see if they can suggest another solution.
If you’ve been deprived of sleep recently, you may have what’s called sleep debt. Learn how to factor that in and get your body back on track.