September 5, 2023
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“I slept like a baby.” This common expression usually means that you slept soundly and deeply. If you’ve ever had an infant, this might seem like the most illogical expression ever! Nevertheless, it highlights an important point—our sleep patterns and sleep needs change across the lifespan. Babies do not sleep the same as children. Children do not sleep the same as adolescents. You get the point. So how much sleep do we need?
Let’s start with adults since that’s where you’re at. According to healthy sleep guidelines, adults aged 18-64 should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night for optimal functioning and those aged 65+ should aim for 7-8 hours. Research has shown, however, that many adults get less than the recommended 7-hour minimum. If you sleep for only 5 hours and feel great, that’s fantastic! Some people simply require less sleep (and some require more). Therefore, keep these guidelines in mind but try to not get too hung up on the number. If you are getting good quality sleep and feel rested the next day, you are getting enough sleep for your body’s needs. Nevertheless, if you are consistently sleepy or fatigued throughout the day, you might not be getting enough sleep.
We’ve probably all witnessed what can happen when babies or toddlers don’t get the sleep they need—a meltdown is one way to describe it. And rightfully so. A significant amount of growth and development happens in the first two years of life, and a lot of sleep is needed to support this. Newborns (0-3 months) typically need 14-17 hours, infants (4-11 months) need 12-15 hours, and toddlers (1-2 years) need about 11-14 hours. Newborn sleep tends to be unpredictable, often determined by the need to eat. More regularity in sleep patterns starts to emerge in the infant phase.
Across childhood and adolescence, sleep needs gradually decrease. The recommended ranges for sleep duration are 10-13 hours for preschoolers (3-5 years), 9-11 hours for school-aged children (6-13 years), and 8-10 hours for adolescents (14-17 years). A shift in the sleep-wake cycle also emerges in adolescence. Teenagers naturally start going to bed later as the biological mechanisms underlying their sleep change during puberty.