Sleep is very important. Studies have consistently shown that sleeping well improves mood, emotion regulation and our cognitive processes such as problem solving and decision making, while poor sleep can have the opposite effect.
But how much sleep do we actually need? And, does this amount change across our lifespan?
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine Guidelines, the amount of sleep we need does in fact change over time.
During the first years of life, infants and toddlers are recommended to sleep between 11-17 hours over a 24 hour period, with the total amount of recommended sleep steadily declining over time. Primary school aged children should sleep between 9 and 11 hours a night (at which time daytime naps generally no longer occur), while adolescents should sleep between 8 and 10 hours a night. It isn’t until we reach the age of 18 that sleep recommendations become more consistent until the age of 65 (7 to 9 hours a night), when there is another decline in the number of recommended hours of sleep (7 to 8 hours).
Natural changes in sleep also occur with age. For example, during adolescence, melatonin production (the hormone your body produces to make you feel tired), occurs later, making it difficult for teeangers to go to sleep earlier at night and difficulty waking up early. Another example is when we enter older adulthood (65+ years), it is normal to have a tendency to engage in lighter sleep with more awakenings. However, worrying about these changes when they occur can lead to the development of conditions like insomnia as older adults feel concerned that they aren’t getting enough ‘good, normal’ sleep.
There can also be many reasons why we may not be getting enough sleep. These reasons can be biological (genetics, due to medication, hyperarousal), psychological (worry, stress) or social (shift work, commitments, technology use, poor sleep habits).
It is also important to note that just as sleeping too little increases the risk of physical and mental health problems, sleeping too much may be a sign of other ongoing health concerns, resulting in increased levels of fatigue.
If you consistently feel tired or unrested after sleep, speak to your doctor about possible causes.