Ask an Expert: How Much Sleep Should You Get Each Night?

The National Sleep Foundation released sleep time recommendations. We asked neurologist Eric Dyken, MD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics to put the numbers in perspective and offer insight for getting a good night’s repose.

What should we take from these new sleep guidelines?

The recommendations were made by a panel of scientists and medical professionals who looked at more than 300 sleep studies over the past decade. Two age categories—young adults and older adults—are new. The new recommendations widen the sleep range by an hour or two in several categories, but for adults the sleep range didn’t change and remains at seven to nine hours each night. These are not “one size fits all” recommendations. We all recognize that some people are short sleepers, where five hours of unbroken sleep each night is all they need to feel refreshed and physiologically fine. On the other hand, a person with obstructive sleep apnea may sleep for 10 hours but still feel exhausted every morning.

Should we focus on the number of hours slept? Isn’t quality of sleep more important than quantity?

Quality is always important. Again, it varies from person to person, but generally speaking, the best way to achieve good, quality sleep is to keep your sleep environment relatively cool, comfortable, quiet, and dark. For many people, going to bed is a ritual—putting on one’s pajamas, un-tucking the covers, reading before turning out the light, things like that. Some people like to feel the breeze of a fan, while others prefer “white noise” to drown out the stillness. TV is not considered good sleep hygiene, but it works for some people, myself included. The goal is to create a sleep-inducing environment and have a routine in terms of when you go to bed and when you wake up. There are always exceptions, but try to be consistent.

What’s a sleep diary and when is it necessary?

A sleep diary is a tool to help you and your doctor better understand your sleep habits. There are different examples available on the Internet, but in its simplest form you use it to record the time you went to bed and the time you awoke. Other sleep diary questions to record may include: Did you sleep throughout the night? If not, how many times did you wake up? What’s waking you up? In the morning, do you feel rested or refreshed? The answers to these questions can lead to a decent sleep history and help determine if changes to your sleep routine, or even an overnight sleep study, may be needed. If you’re experiencing any health issues that may be sleep-related, talk to your primary care provider.

Sleepy Times

According to the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Newborns (age 0-3 months): 14-17 hours
  • Infants (age 4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (age 1-2): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (age 3-5 years): 10-13 hours
  • School-age children (age 6-13): 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (age 14-17): 8-10 hours
  • Younger adults (age 18-25): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (age 26-64): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (age 65+): 7-8 hours
Last reviewed: 
May 2015