Hours vs Quality: How Much Sleep Do You Need at Night?

The answer will surprise.

How much sleep do you really need? How many hours should you sleep if you want to be healthy and productive? How do you know if you should sleep more hours or less?

How many hours should you sleep if you want to be healthy and productive? How do you know if you should sleep more hours or less?

Here’s the thing: no matter how much you try to avoid it, sleep is one of the most important activities of your body. When you get enough sleep, your body refreshes itself, rejuvenates, repairs it worn out tissues.

Studies have shown that the negative effects when we don’t get enough sleep:

  • Poor cognitive performance
  • Weight gain
  • Reduce immunity to illness like cold
  • Increase in blood pressure

The average person will spend about a third of their life sleeping. Despite all the importance of sleep, there’s uncertainty about exactly how much sleep a person needs.

How many hours of sleep do you really need?

To answer this question, the National Sleep Foundation gathered some of the brightest leading scientists.

After the scientists reviewed over 300 scientific studies, the researchers found that the hours of sleep a person needs varies based on the age of the person.

In general, the study suggests seven to nine hours of sleep for people above 18 years. Preschoolers, infants, toddlers, and newborns need more hours of sleep.

Recommended hours of sleep based on age

Here’s the breakdown of the recommended hours of sleep by the National Sleep Foundation

AgeRecommended hoursMaybe appropriate hoursNot recommended hours
Newborns
0-3 mo
14 to 1711 to 13
18 to 19
Less than 11
More than 19
Infants
4-11 mo
12 to 1510 to 11
16 to 18
Less than 10
More than 18
Toddlers
1-2 y
11 to 149 to 10
15 to 16
Less than 9
More than 16
Preschoolers
3-5 y
10 to 138 to 9
14
Less than 8
More than 14
School-aged children
6-13 y
9 to 117 to 8
12
Less than 7
More than 12
Teenagers
14-17 y
8 to 107
11
Less than 7
More than 11
Young adults
18-25 y
7 to 96
10 to 11
Less than 6
More than 11
Adults
26-64 y
7 to 96
10
Less than 6
More than 10
Older adults
≥ 65 y
7 to 85 to 6
9
Less than 5
More than 9

The biggest takeaway is to realize that these numbers are averages. The numbers here are not set in stone. It’s important to understand how your body works so you can get enough rest. 

For example, your sleep needs will vary based on a few things. Ask yourself:

  • Do you exercise every day?
  • Do you wake up groggy, tired or fatigued?
  • Are you putting on too much weight?
  • Are you having trouble concentrating at work or on a task?
  • Does your vision appear blurry and you feel sleepy when driving?
  • Are you having trouble remembering simple tasks?

The answers to any of these and a lot more self-assessment can help you determine if you need to put in more hours of sleep.

What to do if you realize you’re not sleeping enough hours?

If you realize that the amount of sleep you’re getting is well below the recommended hours, don’t panic. Let the lost hours of sleep (also called sleep debt) go as you cannot regain them.

According to one study, for each hour of lost sleep, it takes up to four days to recover. It’s really difficult to make up for that lost sleep (more tips on that in a moment).

However, just like financial debt, you need to make an effort to bring it in check. Do something about it. Else, the sleep debt and its interest will compound leading to dangerous health risks

Is the quality of sleep more important than hours of sleep?

Both are equally important. In some cases, they are positively linked. In the sense that more hours of sleep means the quality of sleep.

The ultimate indicator of quality sleep is how much deep sleep you get. There are four cycles or stages of sleep and deep sleep typically occurs around stages 3 and 4.

  • Stage 1 (now “N1”): Although you have your eyes closed, you’re also aware of your environment. You have slow eye movement, your body begins to relax and your brain wave activity gradually slows down. 
  • Stage 2 (now “N2”): Your slow eye movements stop. You’re not easily disrupted and your brain wave activities are still winding down.
  • Stages 3 and 4 (now “N3”): Deep and restorative sleep occurs. The brain produces slow waves.
  • REM: Your eyes move quickly. Twenty-five percent of sleep is at this stage.

How to improve sleep quality

Simple habits can help you improve the quality of your sleep. Here are a few of them:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Keeping a consistent sleep schedule
  • Have the right bedroom temperature
  • Adjust your bedroom lights to dim or red
  • Have a no-device policy hours before bed
  • Avoid caffeine right before bed
  • Practice deep breathing and meditation before bed