Sure, you’re eating your vegetables and fruits and squeezing in exercise at least 20 minutes a day, but are you getting enough sleep, too? The latest sleep recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation may make you want to think twice about skimping on essential shut-eye. Sleep is key to your physical health and emotional vitality, but just how many hours of sleep you need depends on your age and stage of development.
“Sleep is important for mental function: alertness, memory consolidation, mood regulation, and physical health,” says Phyllis C. Zee, MD, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.
Too few hours of sleep or poor sleep could pave the way to a myriad of emotional and physical problems, from diabetes to obesity, explains Dr. Zee. “In fact, data shows that with sleep loss, there are changes in the way the body handles glucose, which could lead to a state of insulin resistance (pre-diabetes),” says Zee. “There is also evidence that lack of sleep alters appetite regulation, which may lead to overeating or food choices that can also contribute to overweight and obesity.”
Your Sleep Needs Change Over the Years
How much sleep you need to stay healthy, alert, and active depends on your age and varies from person to person — most adults need at least seven or more hours of sleep each night.
The National Sleep Foundation and a panel of 18 experts combed through more than 300 studies to identify the ideal amount of time a person needs to sleep according to their age:
Newborns (0 to 3 months): 14 to 17 hours of sleep
Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours of sleep
Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours of sleep
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 to 13 hours of sleep
School-aged children (6 to 13 years): 9 to 11 hours of sleep
Teenagers (14 to 17 years): 8 to 10 hours of sleep
Young adults (18 to 25 years): 7 to 9 hours of sleep
Adults (26 to 64 years): 7 to 9 hours of sleep
Older adults (65 years or older): 7 to 8 hours of sleep
Gender Affects Sleep Patterns
Although most men and women need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, their sleep patterns are generally different. Women often sleep more than men and experience a lighter sleep that is more easily disrupted. Many women have undiagnosed sleep disorders.
Problems that can disrupt women’s sleep include depression, major life events (such as divorce), pregnancy, hormonal changes related to menopause, sleep disorders (i.e., obstructive sleep apnea and restless legs syndrome), and medical problems like arthritis, back pain, and fibromyalgia.
Research shows that men often lose sleep over job-related stress. Men also tend to take sleep for granted and stay up longer than they should. Today, helping take care of the kids and keeping up with the household chores only adds to the pressure on men.
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Additional stressors that cause men to lose sleep include life issues (regarding marriage/divorce, children, employment, money), medical problems like epilepsy and heart disease, sleep disorders, substance abuse, and depression.
If you believe you need professional advice about your lack of sleep, a good idea is to maintain a sleep diary for about a week. This will help your doctor get an accurate picture of your sleep history. Your doctor might recommend prescription medication, a device to keep your air passageways open, or a weight-loss plan, based on your individual symptoms and needs.