Sleep is so essential for an active, productive day — but many don't realize just how crucial a good sleep routine is for your holistic health (and appearance!). Getting enough sleep does much more for your body than it does for your mood, believe it or not; during what's known as REM sleep, your brain processes information you've taken in during the day and improves your long-term memory. Plus, your body often works on repairing itself during a good night's sleep, and in younger adults and children, growth development also occurs overnight. Researchers are discovering more links between a healthy sleep routine and other holistic benefits, from nutrition and metabolism to emotional wellbeing, every year.
And since you're looking into how many hours of sleep you should be getting each night, now's a good time to answer the age-old question: Can you really "catch up" on lost sleep? If you're someone who likes to sleep in on weekends and be a night owl during the work week, listen up: Recent research out of the University of Colorado Boulder suggests that people who regularly "sleep in" on weekends end up less healthy than those who are routinely sleep-deprived. It's best to try and actively get as much routine sleep as possible — even on the weekends.
But how much sleep you should be getting really depends on your lifestyle. Sleep experts with medical backgrounds have previously established that multiple factors determine how long you should be sleeping each night — often, the amount of your daily physical activity comes into play, plus any pre-existing health conditions, and more. A major factor that currently dictates widely accepted sleep guidelines is age.
How many hours of sleep do you need?
The amount of sleep you need depends on various factors — especially your age. While sleep needs vary significantly among individuals, consider these general guidelines from the National Sleep Foundation for different age groups:
- Children (6-13) should get between 9-11 hours
- Teenagers (14-17) should get between 8-10 hours
- Adults (18-64) should get between 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+) should get between 7-8 hours
There are more ranges for children under 6 years of age, but the slight reduction in overall sleep for those over the age of 65 is intentional. It is true that people can indeed skimp on sleep naturally as they age, explains Michael Grandner, PhD, the director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona, who dissects bedtime habits in his work as a sleep advisor to Casper. He adds that researchers have previously established that as people age, sleep can become more shallow, and people are more likely to get up during the night.
"It's not clear whether people need less sleep as they age — one thing that does seem to change is that, even as sleep is more broken up and less restful, older people are more resilient to sleep loss," he explains. "Sleep loss doesn't have the same associations with long-term health for older individuals as it does in younger people."
A 2018 study published in Molecular Psychiatry suggests that genetics may also have a role in how long you need to sleep, and whether you're predisposed to sleep disorders as you age. If you have already experienced or been diagnosed with a sleep disorder, your sleep quality may suffer, and you may need more sleep than a recommended range. Sleep quality is an important factor here; you may be sleeping for seven hours total, but seven hours of disrupted sleep is different from seven hours of deep sleep.
Ultimately, however, the perfect amount of sleep each night may be determined by when you need to be awake to move about your routine normally. Forcing a certain bedtime to strictly adhere to the guidelines above may backfire on you; you may toss and turn and trigger disrupted fragmented sleep. You're better off focusing on allowing your body to feel sleepy after a long day by practicing good sleep hygiene: Turn off electronics, dim the lights, and do something to calm your mind as you begin to feel sleepy.
What health risks are associated with sleep deprivation?
As we've established, getting enough sleep regularly is crucial for multiple facets of good health. Many people are technically considered sleep-deprived — about a third of the U.S. population, per national surveys — as they experience a frequent or sustained reduction in the overall sleep over a few days. Getting more sleep becomes crucial when someone develops what's known as chronic sleep deprivation, also known as insufficient sleep syndrome, which is when that sleep deprivation lasts for three months or longer.
According to Dr. Grandner, people who are sleep deprived are more likely to experience the following drawbacks:
- Higher cardiovascular disease risk: There's a 20% increase in risk for issues like high blood pressure and other conditions that can affect your heart health if you are regularly sleep-deprived.
- Higher risk for metabolic disorders: "You may experience more metabolic disruptions, including changes to hormones that control hunger and feeling full," Dr. Grandner adds. Those who sleep less may also face a 30% increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
- Increased inflammation: The immune system can be impacted by a lack of sleep, contributing to systemic inflammation throughout your body. Your body may not be able to fight disease and recover from injuries in the same way if you were well-rested, he adds.
- Increased risk for injuries: "Lack of sleep impairs attention, ability to focus, physical performance and coordination, learning and memory, decision-making, and other brain functions," Dr. Grandner says. "It also impacts emotion regulation, neuroendocrine stress hormone systems, and other stress management systems."
Should I be focused on getting more sleep?
Sleep deprivation and poor sleep doesn't impact all people equally. Established research suggests that women are more likely to get insufficient sleep than men; this may be equally tied to mental health conditions. Adolescents and younger adults are also more likely to be sleep-deprived. "Their biological clocks drive them to stay up later, but the need to get up for school or work tends to cut their sleep opportunity short," Dr. Grandner says.
Some groups may also be more likely to deal with sleep quality issues. "People from racial and ethnic minority backgrounds, especially Black individuals, are also systematically more likely to get less sleep," he says. "This may be due to psychosocial stress, discrimination, or other factors."
Focusing on getting quality sleep is a goal that may help transform your holistic health in ways that you may not have realized. Start by working on your own bedtime habits, and then focus on ways you may be able to optimize your bedroom for a good night's sleep. When all else fails, speaking to your healthcare provider on why you may be having trouble sleeping is important — doing so may reveal an underlying health condition that could be contributing to your exhaustion.