How Many Hours of Sleep Do We Need?


Written by Dr. Michael Breus

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Experts agree that, throughout adulthood, most people should sleep for at least seven hours per day. The amount of sleep needed varies from person to person and changes over a lifetime. People sleep more as children, and gradually need less sleep as they grow older.

Getting adequate sleep is essential to good health. Research shows that sleep affects almost every part of the human body. Sleep impacts concentration and learning, metabolism, immune function, and mood. When sleep quantity or quality aren’t sufficient, people are at increased risk of health problems like obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and depression.

We cover how much sleep people need at each stage of life, along with tips for how to obtain adequate sleep.

Key Takeaways


  • Always aim for the recommended amount of sleep for your age group.
  • Sleep patterns change over time, affecting your overall nap and sleep needs.
  • Improve your sleep by maintaining good sleep hygiene and a consistent sleep schedule.

Sleep Recommendation Guidelines

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine provides recommendations for how many hours of sleep people should obtain at each stage of life.

Age Group
Recommended Amount of Sleep

Infant, 4-12 months

12-16 hours

Toddler, 1-2 years

11-14 hours

Preschool, 3-5 years

10-13 hours

School-age, 6-12 years

9-12 hours

Teen, 13-18 years

8-10 hours

Adult, 18 years and older

At least 7 hours

Sleep Needs of Infants (0-12 Months)

Recommendations for newborns younger than 4 months are not included due to the wide variation in duration and patterns of sleep that occur during this time.

According to experts, infants between 4 and 12 months require 12 to 16 hours. Infants sleep more than any other age group and their sleep patterns can change rapidly during the first years of life.

Sleep plays an important role in the development of the brain, which grows rapidly during infancy. Research has shown that sleeping well in infancy is important for the proper development of many mental functions including:

  • Memory
  • Language
  • Executive function, which means the ability to plan and adapt
  • Emotional control

When babies don’t get enough sleep, there are serious emotional and physical consequences, including increased separation anxiety, an increased likelihood of accidents and injuries, and a greater risk of obesity later in childhood. Sleep in infancy also plays a vital role in immune system development, including response to vaccination.

Toddlers (1-2 Years)

Toddlers between 1 and 2 years old need to sleep between 11 and 14 hours during each 24-hour period.

During the toddler years, a great deal of mental and physical growth occurs, including social, emotional, and behavioral development. Good sleep helps this important phase. Lack of adequate sleep can cause serious consequences for a child’s mental development, including their ability to control their emotions and behavior.

By the time they are 18 months old, most toddlers sleep for long stretches at night and usually only take one nap a day. However, toddlers commonly resist going to sleep, and bedtime may be especially challenging if there are older siblings who have a later bedtime.

Preschoolers (3-5 Years)

Preschool children between the ages of 3 and 5 years old need 10 to 13 hours of sleep per 24-hour period. Because of the significant amount of mental, physical, and emotional development that occurs during these years, adequate sleep is very important.

During sleep, the body produces growth hormone, which is essential for growth and development. In addition, other hormones are produced during sleep that help build muscle, fight illnesses, and repair tissue damage.

In children of preschool age, sleep habits immensely change over time. Normal sleep patterns vary widely across children as well, with some regularly napping in addition to a longer period of sleep at night, while others no longer nap.

School-Age Children (6-12 Years)

School-age children from 6 to 12 years old need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep a day.

Adequate sleep helps children focus and pay attention. Conversely, when they haven’t had enough sleep, school-age children are more prone to problems with mental performance, behavior, alertness, and mood. The impact of poor sleep is particularly noticeable on complex mental tasks.

Additionally, getting enough sleep results in improved performance on cognitive tasks. Since most school-age children typically no longer nap, it is important to establish a bedtime that allows them to get adequate sleep before their morning wake-up time.

Teens (13-18 Years)

Experts recommend teens sleep for 8 to 10 hours per night. Getting enough sleep benefits adolescents due to the positive impact sleep has on the production of growth hormone, emotional control and behavior, and cognition, which is the ability to learn, remember, and reason.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for teens to get as much sleep as they need. An estimated 7 out of every 10 high school-aged teens do not get as much sleep as they need on school nights. Certain issues can make it hard for teens to get enough sleep:

  • Early Schedules: Teenagers tend to feel sleepy around 11 p.m, but many school schedules make it necessary for them to wake up early in the morning. As a result, they don’t have enough time to get adequate sleep.
  • Homework: Heavy school workloads can make it hard for students to stay on top of homework and get enough rest.
  • Technology: Smartphones in particular tend to distract teens with messages and alerts. Both the interruptions and the nature of the technology can interfere with sleep.

Sleep is immensely important for teens, and a lack of it has been found to negatively affect brain development. Not getting enough sleep puts teens at increased risk of poor mental health, attention issues, behavioral problems, injury, diabetes, and obesity.

Adults (18 Years and Older)

Most adults need at least 7 hours of sleep per night. The many benefits of sleep should encourage anyone to make sleep a priority, even if it means adjusting your sleep schedule. Sufficient sleep during adulthood promotes the abilities to learn, remember, and can help stave off cognitive decline that sometimes causes trouble as people age.

During the adult years, people often have multiple academic, occupational, family-related, and other demands on their time. This can make it hard for them to carve out enough room in their schedule for adequate sleep. In the United States, almost 30% of adults report getting six hours or less of sleep each night.

Sleep patterns change as a person ages. Older adults commonly have trouble getting enough sleep as their sleep-wake cycle becomes weaker. Both daytime sleepiness and daytime naps become more common in later adulthood.

Understanding How Much Sleep You Need

Guidelines for sleep requirements serve as a general rule for sleep needs. However, the ideal amount of sleep can vary from person to person. While it is not the norm, some people may be short sleepers, needing less than six hour of sleep a night to feel rested. Other people may need more sleep than what is recommended for their age group.

In addition to age, sleep requirements for an individual can depend on other factors.

  • Health Issues: A number of medical conditions, ranging from neurological diseases to inflammatory conditions, can cause people to feel excessively sleepy during the day or require more sleep overall.
  • Medications: Many common medications, including pain medications, drugs to treat seizures, and psychiatric drugs, may produce sleepiness.
  • Genetics: Inherited differences between individuals can account for some differences in how much sleep they need.
  • Physical Demands: Athletes generally need more sleep to achieve peak performance and recuperate from training.

Signs You Are Not Getting Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep can result in physical, mental, and mood alterations during the day. Certain symptoms may indicate a need for more sleep.

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Sleep inertia
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Dozing off

Signs You May Be Getting Too Much Sleep

More than nine hours of sleep in a 24-hour period is considered to be excessive in adults. Getting too much sleep is less common than being sleep deprived. However, sleeping excessively can also cause negative effects.

Too much sleep is associated with a number of chronic diseases, including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. However, experts may have trouble determining whether sleeping more is a cause or an effect of illness, since a number of medical issues can cause people to experience excessive sleepiness.

Tips for Improving Your Sleep

Getting enough sleep can improve physical health, mental functioning, and mood. There are several factors that can help improve sleep.

  • Exercise Earlier in the Day: Exercising, preferably outdoors, earlier in the day, can help you sleep better at night. Exercise may improve sleep in several ways, including by realigning your internal body clock to better match light and dark hours.
  • Take a Walk Outside: Sunlight exposure can promote a healthy sleep-wake cycle. If early awakening is a problem, get some bright light exposure in the evening. If waking up too late is a problem, soak in the sunshine first thing in the morning.
  • Avoid Caffeine Late in the Day: Drinks like coffee, tea, and soda contain caffeine, a stimulant that may result in less restorative sleep and less sleep overall.
  • Keep a Consistent Bedtime: Going to bed at the same time each night can make it easier for you to get to sleep. Set a bedtime that allows you to get enough sleep before you have to wake up in the morning and get to work or school.
  • Don’t Sleep With Your Phone: Avoid using electronic devices like televisions, smartphones, and computers directly before bed. If you continually hear phone alerts, consider charging your phone in another room overnight.
  • Keep the Bedroom Cool: Your body temperature lowers during sleep. It is helpful to keep the bedroom slightly cool, but not so cold that it wakes you up throughout the night.
  • Consider Your Bedroom a Sleep Sanctuary: Keep your bedroom dark and quiet and try to use your bedroom only for sleeping. If you’re still awake 20 minutes after you’ve gone to bed, get out of bed and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy.
  • Ask Your Doctor About Medication Side Effects: Many medications can disrupt sleep. Discuss your current medications and potential side effects with your doctor.

Sleep Tips for Babies and Children

Good sleep habits in early childhood promote good mental, social, emotional, and physical health. Getting enough sleep helps children feel better and cope with the demands of their day, while poor sleep can make their lives more challenging.

  • Help Them Wind Down Before Bedtime: As it gets closer to bedtime, keep the house quiet and dim. Keep things calm and quiet in the evening. Reading a book or taking a bath are soothing activities that can help your child wind down before bedtime.
  • Stick to a Bedtime Routine: Create a consistent routine for winding down before bed and have children go to bed at the same time each night. Having a routine signals to the mind and body that it’s time to prepare for sleep.
  • Save the Excitement for Daytime: Active playing, especially outside, helps your child expend more energy during the day and encourages more sleep at night.
  • Put Your Kid to Bed When They Are Sleepy: Tucking your child in when they are sleepy, but not yet asleep, helps them learn to go to sleep on their own.
  • Take a Favorite Item to Bed: Having a special blanket or teddy bear often helps children fall asleep. This comforting security object may make your child feel more relaxed.

Frequently Asked Questions About How Much Sleep We Need

How much sleep do premature babies need?

Premature infants who are born before 37 weeks of pregnancy typically sleep longer than infants who are born closer to their due date. While babies born at term usually spend about 70% of their time sleeping during the first six months, premature newborns spend about 90% of their time asleep – almost 22 hours a day.

Infants who were born prematurely benefit from more naps than infants born at term, and they usually sleep for shorter stretches at night. They may be 6 to 8 months of age before they sleep six hours or longer at a stretch at night. It may be helpful to speak with your pediatrician about the optimal amount of sleep for your infant and what kind of sleep patterns to expect during their first year.

How much sleep should college students get?

College students generally require the same amount of sleep as others in their age group. However, the demands and distractions of college life make it common for college students to get insufficient sleep.

All-nighters, when a student stays up all night to finish an academic project or study for an exam, are particularly bad for brain function. Even short-term disruption of sleep has consequences, such as more trouble responding to stress, and decreased memory and mental performance.

Why do some people seem to need less sleep than others?

Research has suggested that inherited genes might enable some people to sleep six hours or less per night without showing signs of sleep deprivation. Although rare, some people can get by on less than six hours of sleep without symptoms like fatigue or daytime sleepiness.

If I don’t get enough sleep during the week, can I make up for it by sleeping longer on the weekends?

Using the weekend to catch up on sleep has been found to reduce sleepiness. However, when sleep requirements aren’t met, sleep debt accumulates. If the sleep debt is too high, a weekend may not be long enough to undo the damage done by sleeping too little all week.

Can my smart-watch really tell me how much sleep I’m getting?

Wearable devices, like fitness trackers, may overestimate sleep time and sleep efficiency when compared to the more sophisticated technologies available in a sleep lab. However, sleep measurements from a wrist band may be a good starting point for a discussion with a doctor about sleep. If a doctor suspects a sleep disorder, formal sleep testing using a sleep study may be ordered.


About The Author

Dr. Michael Breus

Clinical Psychologist, Sleep Medicine Expert

Michael Breus, Ph.D is a Diplomate of the American Board of Sleep Medicine and a Fellow of The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and one of only 168 psychologists to pass the Sleep Medical Specialty Board without going to medical school. He holds a BA in Psychology from Skidmore College, and PhD in Clinical Psychology from The University of Georgia. Dr. Breus has been in private practice as a sleep doctor for nearly 25 years. Dr. Breus is a sought after lecturer and his knowledge is shared daily in major national media worldwide including Today, Dr. Oz, Oprah, and for fourteen years as the sleep expert on WebMD. Dr. Breus is also the bestselling author of The Power of When, The Sleep Doctor’s Diet Plan, Good Night!, and Energize!

  • POSITION: Combination Sleeper
  • TEMPERATURE: Hot Sleeper

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