It's no secret that good sleep is essential to overall health. But even though many of us know this, we often don’t make time for it, let alone know how much we should be getting. Although 7-9 hours a day is sufficient for most adults, it's possible you could need more or less sleep time depending on your situation (source). So this begs the question, just how much is right for you? The answer is likely right in front of you, as long as you know what to look for.
How much sleep do I need?
Average sleep needs will vary by age, decreasing as you get older. Once a person hits early adulthood, many experts agree that 7 – 9 hours of total sleep in a 24 hour period is adequate.
However, keep in mind that individual needs will vary. Most adults will feel fine in that 7 –9 hour range, but some might require more or less on a regular basis. The Sleep Foundation recommends the following ranges:
What if I fall outside of the recommended ranges?
Since sleep is such a complex subject that’s affected by both external factors (like your lifestyle or working hours) and internal factors (like your specific health conditions), it’s important to use the chart above as a guideline but not a rule. If as an adult you feel healthy and energetic on 10 hours of shuteye, then more power to you! Often, your body will tell you if you’re not sleeping the right amount. You just have to listen!
Are you getting enough sleep? Here are signs to look for.
How do you know if you're not getting enough sleep?
Since many of the body’s essential processes (like memory consolidation and hormone regulation) happen while asleep, you’ll likely notice a few physical and mental side effects after lost sleep (source). Your mental clarity and alertness may suffer, making it difficult to focus on work or tasks like driving. Concurrently, your mood may also take a turn, which can lead to irritability and even depression. And as you’d expect, your body will naturally crave foods that can offer a quick energy boost, like caffeine, carbs, and sugar. Over time, those cravings paired with an increased appetite (another symptom of continued sleep deprivation) can lead to weight gain and sometimes obesity (source).
Prolonged sleep deprivation can be harmful to your health and warrants a discussion with your doctor. Because sleep is so vital to every part of the body, not getting enough can lead to conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, chronic pain, hormonal imbalance, and immunodeficiency (source).
Are you getting too much sleep?
You might think you can’t have too much of a good thing, but when it comes to sleep, you may not want to overdo it. Although there may be circumstances where sleeping in a little longer is necessary, regular oversleeping can cause your day-to-day well being to suffer (not to mention it also tends to be a symptom of a more serious health condition) (source). Instead of feeling rejuvenated and energized, you might notice a dip in your overall energy levels along with fatigue or sluggishness. Headaches and neck or back pain can also be a common side effect, since lying in bed for those extra hours can make you feel especially stiff. And similar to sleeping too little, oversleeping can have negative effects on your mood, mental cognition, and memory retention (source).
How can you tell if you're getting the right amount of sleep?
Generally, your mood and energy levels should tell you whether you’re getting the proper amount of sleep or not. On a good night’s rest, you should have the ability to think clearly and recall new information. You should also have sufficient energy levels throughout the day and won’t crave foods or substances to “pick you up” (like caffeine or sugar). Good rest can also prevent wrinkles and improve your complexion (source).
You can also look for clues in the way you fall asleep and wake up. After the lights are out, the time it takes you to fall asleep (known as sleep latency) should be around 10 –20 minutes (source). Typically, falling asleep within this amount of time means that you’re “properly tired”. Also an indicator that you’re sleeping enough? Waking up naturally, without the need for an alarm. When this happens, you're letting your body’s internal cues dictate just how much sleep you need.
Can you make up for lost sleep?
If you’ve become short on the number of sleep hours your body needs, you’ve racked up some sleep debt. Although it’s not ideal to accumulate sleep debt in the first place, the Sleep Foundation recommends a few strategies you can use short-term to overcome small amounts of it:
- Take a power nap. If you’re struggling to make it through the day, a 20-30 minute power nap at the right time can help relieve some sleep pressure and give you the energy boost you need.
- Sleep in when you can. If your lack of sleep is due to a busy schedule, plan to sleep later (or go to bed early) when you’re able to make up for missed hours.
- Prevent lost sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene. Keeping a regular sleep schedule, regular meal and exercise times, and an optimal sleep environment will all help you get the sleep you need and avoid sleep debt altogether. Keep in mind that you can’t back track on significant sleep deprivation, so prioritizing quality sleep will always be your best defense.
For more information and resources on recommended hours of sleep, we encourage you to read the following:
Sleep Deprivation by the Sleep Foundation
How Much Sleep Do We Really Need? by the Sleep Foundation
10 Things to Hate About Sleep Loss by WebMD
Oversleeping: Bad for Your Health? by Johns Hopkins Medicine
The Truth About Beauty Sleep by WebMD
Sleep Latency by the Sleep Foundation
Sleep Debt and Catching up on Sleep by the Sleep Foundation