Sleep is CRITICAL for our health in many ways. From regulating our bodily functions, to helping our bodies fight diseases and strengthening our immune system, getting enough sleep also helps boost our productivity and concentration for another day.
Often neglected, getting enough snooze-time also contributes to your work performance, and Human Resources is not just saying that so you start showing up to work on time.
Some workplaces even go above and beyond by installing “snooze pods” for their employees to catch some mid-day naps.
If you don’t get enough, or at all, this study says that you may begin to experience a progressive shutdown of cognitive and motor functions, including cognitive deterioration, increased irritability and even hallucination.
And all this will happen after just 24 hours with no sleep. After 72 hours (3 days), paranoia will start kicking in.
Fun fact: the longest record time the average human has surpassed is 11 days.
And even that came with its downsides.
Sleep requirements by age in a table, nice and easy
|Age||Recommended||May be appropriate||Not recommended|
|14-17 hours||11 to 13 hours; or
18 to 19 hours
|Less than 11 hours; or
More than 19 hours
|12-15 hours||10 to 11 hours; or
16 to 18 hours
|Less than 10 hours; or
More than 18 hours
|11-14 hours||9 to 10 hours; or
15 to 16 hours
|Less than 9 hours; or
More than 16 hours
|Preschoolers (3-5)||10-13 hours||8 to 9 hours; or
|Less than 8 hours; or
More than 14 hours
|School age children (6-13)||9-11 hours||7 to 8 hours; or
|Less than 7 hours; or
More than 12 hours
|Teenagers (14-17)||8-10 hours||7 hours; or
|Less than 7 hours; or
More than 11 hours
|Younger adults (18-25)||7-9 hours||6 hours; or
10 to 11 hours
|Less than 6 hours; or
More than 11 hours
|Adults (26-64)||7-9 hours||6 hours; or
|Less than 6 hours; or
More than 10 hours
|Older adults (65+)||7-8 hours||5 to 6 hours; or
|Less than 5 hours; or
More than 9 hours
Having sufficient sleep simply means a healthy state of mind to do just about anything you put it to. Getting some shuteye has also proven to:
- Improve body regulations i.e. weight, calorie, blood pressure
- Strengthen immune system
- Boost concentration & productivity
During sleep, your mind and body are at rest, thus allowing for a complete reset of normal body functions, such as regulating the blood pressure and hormone productions for optimal cognitive functions.
The National Sleep Foundation (NSF), a non-profit organization advocating health and well-being through sleep, breaks down what goes on in our bodies during the last three stages of sleep:
- Stages 3 & 4: The body is in its deepest slumber. Breathing slows down, muscles are relaxed, blood pressure decreases, the body regains energy and does its necessary repairs to tissues and engages in regulated hormone production.
- Stage 5: The rapid eye movement (REM) cycle. Only accounting for about 25% of the night, the REM phase allows for more energy to be restored in the body, activates the dreaming phase and an increase in brain activity.
Sufficient sleep is also linked to a healthier lifestyle. It leads to a lower risk of gaining weight, due to better calorie and appetite regulation.
On the other hand, have too little sleep and you’ll be gaining the exact opposite of these benefits. Instead of having your normal bodily functions all regulated and well, you may run the risk of:
- Heart disease
- Cognitive impairment (worst case scenario)
Insufficient sleep can disrupt our normal everyday lives, including impacting your productivity, memory and emotional depth (the way you experience and handle emotions). Moodiness, lethargy and irritability are just some of the common symptoms of insufficient sleep.
Going too long without enough sleep (or at all) may eventually lead to cognitive impairment, a mental disorder that impedes one’s memory, concentration and productivity.
To prevent this, we simply need to sleep. Right?
For most of us, it can be hard to keep to our bedtime schedules. We’re awake for so much of the day, and when it’s time to go to bed, many factors may come into play.
Like finishing that show you keep binging. Or the last minute report you have to send out. Or preparing your meals for the next week.
1 in 3 adults say they have difficulties in keeping to their bedtime schedules – and there’s a chance that you do, too.
That’s why you’re here.
With all the benefits surrounding the glory of getting enough sleep / sufficient rest / ample snooze-time, just how do we achieve that?
First, we’ll need to know how many hours of sleep is required for optimal functions.
Age-specific sleep recommendations
You read that right. Turns out, the recommended amount of sleep (which is 7 to 9 hours) isn’t for everybody.
In 2015, the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) released “new” sleep times for different ages, from newborns to older adults aged 65 years old and above – which is a newly-added category. They didn’t have this before.
For each age range, the timings were either increased or decreased to meet the appropriate amount of sleep. This was done through a “rigorous, systematic review of the world scientific literature relating sleep duration to health, performance and safety”, says the NSF.
The new sleep schedule was put together by a multidisciplinary panel consisting of experts and medical professionals in related fields, including sleep, neurology, physiology, gerontology and paediatrics.
By acknowledging the changes your body goes through as you age, the recommended hours of sleep listed here is adjusted to meet your sleep requirements as well.
The sleep schedules are:
- Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours each day (from 12-18 hours)
- Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (from 14-15 hours)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (from 12-14 hours)
- Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (from 11-13 hours)
- School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (10-11 hours)
- Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (8.5-9.5 hours)
- Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (newly-added)
- Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours (remains)
- Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours (newly-added)
Spotted your age range yet?
How much is too much?
We know now that sleep deprivation is a no-go. We’ll simply compensate for the number of hours that we’ve missed by adding that to our sleep debt, and sleep in during the weekends.
The math seems to add up.
Unfortunately, the saying “the more, the merrier” doesn’t apply to our sleep times.
While there are studies supporting the dangers of sleeping too little, researchers are also quick to report that oversleeping can be harmful to our bodies in the long run.
Oversleeping, or excessive sleep, has been linked to diabetes, heart diseases, and other medical problems, including death.
On top of the healthy duration of sleep you should be getting, the NSF has also included a table to specify how much sleep is good for you – and how much is not.
If you’re a young adult like me, you should NOT be getting less than 6 hours of sleep each night. Your monthly reports depend on this.
If you’ve noticed the decreasing amount of sleep with increasing age, there’s a reason for this.
It’s more than just accommodating to the physical and physiological body changes that come with age.
Difference in sleep recommendations by age
Researchers and experts have been careful to consider factors other than age for the recommended sleep times above. For example, it also depends on the activity level of your lifestyle and general health as well. If you’re ill, you may need to sleep more to aid in your recovery.
Ever heard of the saying, “sleeping like a baby”?
Newborns should be getting a healthy amount of sleep – which is 14 to 17 hours each night – because sleep affects their growth differently than they do for the elderly. Their basic body functions are still developing, and the amount of sleep that they receive benefits their mental and physical growth.
For school-aged children up to age 13, this is when their bodies reach the peak of their puberty stages. They undergo many physical changes, such as facial hair for boys, and menstruation cycles for girls, and these changes are brought about by an increase in their hormone levels.
Compare that to an elderly person over 65, where bodily changes are virtually non-existent, their need for sleep decreases.
Quality over quantity
But I’m 24 and I clocked in a total of 7 to 8 hours of sleep the past few days. Why do I still feel like it’s not enough?
Getting a good night’s rest isn’t just a question of how long you’ve managed to remain asleep for. A study showed that the quality of sleep is as important – if not more – as the quantity.
According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), sleep quality can be determined by a number of factors, including:
- Time spent in bed vs actual sleep
The first stage of sleep doesn’t kick in the moment your head hits the pillow. As the NSF puts it, “just because you’re under the blankets does not necessarily mean you’re racking up those precious energy-restoring minutes”.
Quality sleep is defined as being (and remaining) asleep for 85% of the time you’re in bed. How many of us can account for this?
- Time taken to fall asleep
If you’re able to fall asleep almost instantly or under 30 minutes, that is a good sign that you’ll achieve quality sleep. For people who toss and turn a lot in bed, perhaps consider devoting a couple of minutes in a pre-bedtime routine.
Some good ideas include taking a warm bath, or reading a good book.
- Waking up during sleep
Ever felt like you’re being jolted awake several times during the night over the slightest sound? If this sounds like you, chances are that the sleep you’re having isn’t of good quality.
Light sleepers are basically people who get stuck in the first stage of sleep, where your body is still in between the state of being asleep and awake. There are some ways to remedy this to ensure you receive sufficient REM sleep, such as exercising, avoiding stimulants (see examples below), and even keeping to a sleep schedule.
We’ll dive into these.
How to achieve quality sleep
Modern day living has made achieving high-quality sleep quite the chore. Stimulants, or substances that boost energy levels in the body, are abundant. While they make the body feel energetic and keep us awake, they can also hinder both our sleep quality and quantity.
You’ve probably had at least one or two of these before:
- Energy drinks
- Light from external sources i.e. your mobile phone
These stimulants work by speeding up the rate at which your brain signals are sent to the brain, therefore activating the cognitive and motor functions.
As common as they are, there’s a reason why there are specific windows of time for these stimulants to be consumed, or to not be used before it’s time for you to hit the hay.
- To achieve high-quality sleep, begin by first identifying the stimulants involved in your typical day. Do you regularly watch Netflix an hour before bed?
- Does consuming coffee 6 hours before bedtime make it harder for you to fall asleep?
- Do you feel more rejuvenated on days you shower closer to your bedtime?
Then try reducing or removing the stimulant completely, and track your sleep times. Tracking sleep schedules have been in practice for decades, usually during treatment courses or therapy with sleep specialists or physicians.
If you want to monitor your progress in achieving quality sleep for better overall health, sleep trackers, or “diaries”, can be an effective tool for you.
I wrote some posts about improving sleep which have done well, and helped many thousands of people. There’s this one, and this one.
Sleep diaries – do they work?
Through the study of sleep science, sleep specialists or physicians have helped many people get their nightly dose of sleep through therapy sessions.
To observe their patients’ progress and offer the right course of treatment, they encourage their patients to keep sleep diaries.
Besides keeping track of your sleep times, sleep diaries are often useful for analysing the quality of your sleep, allowing you to make improvements on your sleeping habits. You can record:
- Duration of sleep
- Number of times you wake
- What you ate or drank before bed
- Any medication taken before bed
- Any stimulants you had during the day
- How you felt before bed
- Your thoughts before bed
Most people keep their sleep diaries next to their bed to serve as a reminder to record an entry before they go to sleep. And this only takes a few minutes.
After a couple of weeks, review your sleeping habits and make slight changes (baby steps!) from there.
You can also download the free template of the official sleep diary on the The National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) website.
Other tips ( to improve sleep)
If writing isn’t your thing, don’t fret. You can still give some of the following remedies a shot and see which one best helps you achieve quality sleep.
- Refrain from sleeping in or hitting the snooze button (past the recommended hours of sleep)
- Engage in simple at-home workouts for 10 minutes before bed
- Put together a bedtime routine (warm bath, slow music) to help put you in the mood for sleep
- Avoid eating big meals closer to your bedtime
It is also important to note that your mood and your mental health also contribute to getting high-quality sleep, therefore you should pay close attention to your emotions, level of energy and overall health before trying any of these out.