Insufficient and disordered sleep is very common. In fact, the National Institutes of Health estimates that up to 70 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder with approximately one-third of adults not getting sufficient sleep of 7 hours per night. Some sleep disorders are more common among men (such as sleep apnea), whereas others are more common among women (such as insomnia).
A good night’s sleep improves physical and mental health, learning, and public safety.
It probably comes as no surprise that sufficient restorative sleep is beneficial to your body and mind, and helps you function better. In the last several decades, scientific research has shown that regular high-quality sleep is associated with better physical and mental health outcomes. The list of health benefits of sufficient restorative sleep includes reduced risks of: heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. Furthermore, high-quality sleep improves psychological wellbeing and interpersonal interactions. Sleep also improves learning and memory. Finally, insufficient sleep is a public safety risk, with an estimated 5,000-6,000 fatal motor vehicle crashes being linked to drowsy driving.
How much sleep should YOU be getting every night?
The National Sleep Foundation recently convened 18 scientists to review the literature on optimal sleep duration. The scholars used a method called the RAND/UCLA Appropriateness Method, which is a technique used to identify expert consensus on complex topics.
Here are the recommendations for daily sleep duration by age group:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours each day
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours each day
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours each day
- School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours per night
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours per night
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours per night
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours per night
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours per night
What can I do to increase my sleep duration?
If you are not sleeping in the recommended sleep duration range for your age group, here are a handful of things you can do to help improve your sleep habits. These tips include:
- Establish a regular schedule for both bedtime and waking. Figure out what time you need to wake up first, and then calculate backwards to identify what time you should fall asleep by. If you can, stick to this schedule all week, even on the weekends; this way it will not be hard to get out of bed on Monday morning.
- Avoid consuming caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. These substances may interfere with your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
- Expose yourself to natural light, especially earlier in the day. This will help your body wake up and will allow you to fall asleep earlier.
- Avoid eating heavy meals before bedtime. Also, be aware of how your body responds to food (i.e. spicy food or heavy food may upset your digestion and interfere with a good night’s sleep).
- Avoid late afternoon napping. A late afternoon nap may make it harder to fall asleep that night.
- Avoid using digital media in the hours before bedtime. This means no televisions, computers, smartphones, or tablets. While television and the internet may be enticing, they can be stimulating and distracting in a way that interferes with your ability to fall asleep easily. Also, you may benefit from waiting to use screens again in the morning as well. If you wake up too early, don’t run to the television. Try falling back asleep!
- Start a habit of a regular bedtime routine. Find something (other than television) to do before bed that helps you relax. Drinking of a cup of herbal tea, reading a book, or stretching to calm music are good ideas.
- Make sure your sleeping space is conducive to sleep. People sleep best in a cool (around 65 degrees), dark, and quiet room.
While some of these suggestions may seem like a challenge, I recommend that you try following these guidelines for a week. See how you feel. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below!
Do National Sleep Foundation’s sleep duration guidelines apply to everyone?
While the benefits that humans get from sufficient restorative sleep generally apply to everyone, some people are more sensitive to one or two nights of insufficient sleep. Also, some people simply need more sleep than others to report feeling refreshed. You may need more or less than the recommended hours described above. If you are sleeping significantly outside of the sleep duration range that is recommended for your age group, you might consider talking to your physician.
Our Sleep Health expert Lauren Hale, PhD is an associate professor of Preventive Medicine and core faculty member of the program in Public Health at Stony Brook University. She specializes in the effects sleep has on mental, physical, and public health. Laurens's articles for the BoomSpot, the blog of the online store theBoomShop.com, shed light on the significance of sleep and the role it plays in personal wellbeing. Lauren presented a TEDx talk at Stony Brook University on her research agenda on the social patterning of sleep health. In 2015, she became the Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal, Sleep Health.