How much sleep do I need?
How often do you find yourself reaching for the snooze button in the morning? Are you finding yourself becoming dependent on caffeine to get you through the day?
Getting the right amount of sleep is important to help you function at your best, both mentally and physically. Sleep can affect more than just your mood or concentration though, it also plays an important role in your ability to fight infection1, your immune system1, metabolism1, health of your heart1, and even your safety1.
With that considered, you might be sitting there asking, ‘how much sleep do I need?’ Here, we aim to answer that question for you.
How many hours of sleep do I need?
The answer depends on your age2, health, and whether you’re aiming to be at your best or simply just get by. You might be getting by on 5-7 hours, but could you be more productive, energetic and healthier on 8+ hours?
There’s been a lot of research on the exact amount of sleep people need, but scientists are yet to find a definitive answer. Despite this, research has uncovered some ‘recommended windows of sleep’ or ‘sleep guidelines’ based on your age group.
Here are the sleep recommendations which have been developed by the National Sleep Foundation2:
- Birth to 3 months – 14 to 17 hours
- 4 to 11 months – 12 to 15 hours
- 1 to 2 years – 11 to 14 hours
- 3 to 5 years – 10 to 13 hours
- 6 to 13 years – 9 to 11 hours
- 14 to 17 years – 8 to 10 hours
- 18 to 64 years – 7 to 9 hours
- 65 years and older adults – 7 to 8 hours
It’s important to remember that these are only guidelines.
There’s no hard and fast rule about the amount of sleep we need. Our sleep needs are a bit like height, it’s genetically determined and we’re all different.
Some people find themselves obsessing over getting the ‘magic’ 8 hours of sleep per night. Though, this fixation on hitting the right number could lead some to become stressed about the sleep they’re getting which can affect both quality and quantity of sleep.
The amount of sleep you need is very individual to you. So, how do you know if you’re getting the ‘right’ amount of sleep?
The answer is quite simple really, it’s all about how you feel the next day.
So, when you’re next debating ‘how much sleep do I need’? The answer you’re really looking for is the amount which ensures you feel awake and refreshed the next day.
It might be handy to keep a sleep diary3, this will help you to test and assess how you feel depending on the amount of sleep you get.
Why am I not getting enough sleep?
It’s said that humans are the only species that voluntarily forgo sleep and in our modern world, we face a number of sleep thieves. These don’t have to be sleep disorders or drastic issues. In fact, sleep thieves can be anything that disrupts circadian rhythms or sleep cycles.
Do you find yourself feeling like time has become irrelevant and there are no set hours for your routine? Do you have a busy lifestyle and find yourself working increasingly long hours? Is your commute eating into your evening? Like many others, you may be finding it difficult to separate your work and home life – this could be impacting your sleep.
For many, there’s no ‘off button’ and this can lead to a de-prioritisation of sleep. But, sleep is a fundamental biological need and shouldn’t be viewed upon as an inconvenience. To help yourself get more sleep, it could be beneficial to identify your own personal sleep thieves.
The different sleep thieves
Sleep thieves are essentially the different factors that can impact our ability to get a good night’s sleep. They can be long term or short-term sleep issues. Here are a few types of sleep thief:
Stress is a common reason people get insufficient sleep4. Issues like anxiety or depression, bereavement, work pressures, money concerns and family issues are all common psychological causes for getting a lack of sleep. A lot of research has been done on the impact of mental health on sleep and awareness of this has been increasing in recent years.
Pain has been found to be another cause of sleep deprivation5. Other physical issues which can cause a lack of sleep include:
- Cardiovascular conditions
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
There are lots of behaviours which can upset your normal sleep pattern. Examples include: unusual shift patterns, jet lag, poor sleep schedule, eating late at night, binge watching TV, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.
Checking your phone, playing video games and watching TV late in the evening can steal hours of quality sleep as the light emitted from these devices affect our eyes. Not only this, but the mental stimulation which goes with this can also make it difficult to ‘switch off’.
The medication you’re taking
Certain medicines can act as stimulants and affect sleep, such as alpha blockers (Tamsulosin6 & Doxazosin7), beta blockers (Atenolol8, Propranolol9), antidepressants (Citalopram10, Fluoxetine11), epilepsy medicine12, corticosteroids13, as well as recreational drugs.
Remember to always read the label of any medication you take. If you are having trouble sleeping and you are taking any of these medicines, talk to your doctor or pharmacist. They will be able to assist you.
Your sleep environment
A sleep-friendly environment is essential to getting a good night’s kip. There are plenty of issues in your environment which could be impacting your ability to get your head down or only allowing you to get a short sleep. These include a poor mattress, noise, temperature, light, or even a snoring/restless partner.
Dealing with issues that get in the way of your sleep
It will help to actively identify which sleep thieves are affecting you. Prioritise your sleep and take the choice to turn off your phone or computer a few hours before bed. Make your bedroom a sanctuary and banish any activities which should be kept for the office, cinema or gym.
If your workload is unmanageable and leaving you stressed, talk to your employer or a Mental Health First Aider who can offer a better work/life balance, or at least some coping strategies.
Don’t forget that you shouldn’t be obsessing over the numbers when it comes to sleep.
The amount of sleep that’s right for you is individual and personal. The ‘right’ amount of sleep is the number that ensures you wake up feeling fresh and alert. If you’re craving better sleep, try recording your sleep in a sleep diary to help test and assess how each night makes you feel. Remain aware of any sleep thieves that may be affecting the quality and quantity of deep sleep you’re getting.
A good night’s sleep is essential to good health. If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, consider speaking with your local pharmacist. They can help determine if there’s an underlying cause and if needed, they could identify the right solution for you.
- Sleep: A health imperative – Sleep Research Society
- How much sleep do we really need – Sleep Foundation
- How to get to sleep – NHS
- 3 signs you’re too stressed to sleep and how to unwind – Sleep Foundation
- Impact of musculoskeletal pain on insomnia onset – Rheumatology, Volume 54, Issue 2
- Tamsulosin Zentiva – Medicines.org
- Cardura – Medicines.org
- Atenolol – Medicines.org
- Propanolol – Medicines.org
- Citalopram – Medicines.org
- Fluoxetine – Medicines.org
- Approach to insomnia – Epilepsy Foundation
- Steroid tablets – NHS