How Little Sleep Do You Need?
On any snoring and sleep-related site (like this one), you’ll find plenty of information on how Western society chronically gets too little sleep.
But here’s an interesting “other side of the coin”: just how little sleep can we get away with?
First, let’s see what the experts have to say about sleep requirement ranges.
How Much is Enough? The NSF Gives the Scoop
The National Sleep Foundation notes varying recommended amounts of sleep per the age of the sleeper. You probably already know that newborns sleep a lot, in total (even though it sure doesn’t feel like it at 3AM!), that the elderly may get up quite early and that you need to blast your teen out of bed at noon on Saturdays. But just how much is enough sleep, per age group?
Here’s what the NSF had to say, per 2015 updated recommendations:
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)
You probably know this too, but it bears stating that there’s a reason each category above is a range and not an exact figure. Any given individual will require more or less sleep within the sleep spectrum; more on this later in the article. So though you may think you’re getting the sleep you should, you could actually be deficient on deep, quality rest.
Either way, it’s clear that six hours should be anyone’s bare minimum, no matter what age he or she is, so try never to dip below that range if at all possible.
Can You Safely Skimp on Sleep?
Most people experience poor sleep once in a while. It may not be enough sleep total, or it may just be a bad night where you toss, turn and seem to wake up more tired than when you put your head down on the pillow.
It’s unlikely that the very rare night of an hour or two of missed sleep will have long-term negative effects and oddly enough, some studies even suggest that less sleep is healthier overall for the body than an excess of it.
It’s when poor sleep continues that you may run into problems, such as memory and cognition issues, anxiety and depression, an increased risk of accidents (particularly driving and machinery operation), and other issues.
How Do You Know You’re Getting Enough?
Beware – letting a poor-sleep condition continue could be hazardous to your health (and your safety). But some of us aren’t sure whether we’re tired or simply stressed, and whether we should be cashing it in earlier each night or looking for other causes to various physical and emotional complaints.
The real issue here is that you are an individual, and you have your own physical needs. In addition, at any given time in your life, you may be under more or less stress, be battling illness or otherwise have a temporarily changed need for the amount of sleep you’re used to getting.
Here are some signs that you may not be getting enough sleep:
- memory difficulties (see your doctor immediately if this is sudden and acute)
- excessive yawning during the day
- morning headache (this can also be a sign of snoring)
- anger, anxiety, irritability or depression with no other known cause
- slow reaction time
- feeling the urge to nap during the day
- poor grades or poor work performance
- loss of drive or motivation
Because the above symptoms could have a number of causes, see your doctor and find out how you can make improvements. A sleep study may be in order to determine the total length and quality of your sleep (for example, how much rapid eye movement – REM – you experience, how much your body moves around during the night, whether you are snoring and how much oxygen you’re getting during sleep).