How Much Sleep Is Required for Optimal Health? Age Matters.

New guidelines specify the amount of sleep necessary to avoid health risks.

Posted Jun 13, 2016

Source: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock

Along with regular exercise and nutrition, sleep is one of the three fundamental lifestyle choices that are key to maintaining your psychological and physical well-being. Getting the appropriate amount of sleep during each stage of life is essential for developing and maintaining a healthy mind in a healthy body. 

Human beings are designed to spend approximately one-third of our lifetime sleeping. Ideally, in adulthood, you should sleep about eight hours a night, which adds up to 122 days per year of sleep. By the time you're sixty years old—if you've gotten healthy amounts of sleep—you will have spent at least twenty years of your life asleep . . . and about five solid years in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, dreaming.

Without proper sleep, people are more likely to: gain weight, suffer from infections, chronic diseases, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease. Psychologically, insufficient sleep can exacerbate feelings of anxiety, depression, and make you more likely to be forgetful and make mistakes. Sleep also helps to balance your mood and emotions.

Unfortunately, as a modern culture, we sleep less and less each year. People of all ages across the country are sleep deprived. Recently, Dr. Nathaniel Watson, president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, said in a statement,

"More than a third of the U.S. population is not getting enough sleep, and for children who are in the critical years of early development, sleep is even more crucial. Making sure there is ample time for sleep is one of the best ways to promote a healthy lifestyle for a child."

But, how much sleep is ideal for optimizing someone's psychological and physical health—especially during infancy, childhood, and adolescence? This week, for the first time, sleep experts reached a consensus on the recommended amount of sleep needed to promote optimal health from infancy through 18 years of age. 

The latest consensus was announced today at SLEEP 2016, a joint meeting of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society.

Nightly Sleep Recommendations for Promoting Optimal Health

  • Infants four to 12 months should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children one to two years of age should sleep 11 to 14 hours (including naps).
  • Children three to five years of age should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours (including naps).
  • Children six to 12 years of age should sleep nine to 12 hours per 24 hours.
  • Teenagers 13 to 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours. 

*Recommendations for infants younger than 4 months are not included in this consensus due to the wide range of normal variation in the duration and patterns of sleep. Also, there is insufficient evidence for associations with health outcomes at this early age.

To reach these conclusions, the 2016 expert panel reviewed 864 published scientific articles addressing the relationship between sleep duration and childhood health.The AASM full consensus statement, “Recommended Amount of Sleep for Pediatric Populations: A Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine” (including the above guidelines) was published today in the June 2016 issue of the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine.

The Pediatric Consensus Panel who compiled these recommendations found that sleeping the recommended number of hours on a regular basis was associated with better health outcomes that included: mental and physical well-being, improved attention, behavior, learning, memory, emotional regulation, and quality of life. 

The panel also found that sleeping fewer than the recommended hours is associated with attention, behavior, and learning problems. Additionally, insufficient sleep in teenagers was found to be associated with a higher risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, and other types of self-harm.

The researchers recommend that parents who are concerned whether or not their child is sleeping too little (or too much) should consult their healthcare provider for the evaluation of a possible sleep disorder.

Adults Should Sleep at Least 7 Hours Per Night for Optimal Health

Becris/Shutterstock
The nightly sleep cycle includes four different stages of sleep that ideally include four rounds of REM. 
Source: Becris/Shutterstock

In 2015, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society gathered 15 leading sleep experts to review thousands of published studies that examined the link between sleep duration and well-being for adults. After their meta-analysis, the group came to a consensus that adults should sleep 7 or more hours per 24 hours (on a regular basis) to promote optimal health.

The team found that getting insufficient sleep increases the risk of accidents, injuries, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, and depression. That said, they also found that sleeping more than the recommended number of hours per 24-hour period on a regular basis is also associated with adverse physical health outcomes such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, as well as mental health problems.

Conclusion: Sleep Quantity and Quality Are Both Important

The benefits of maintaining healthy sleep hygiene go beyond just the quantity of sleep you get on a regular basis. It's also important to maintain daily regularity of when you sleep. This will keep your circadian rhythms and chronobiological clock in sync with the world around you. A healthy night of sleep includes getting five full rounds of each of the four sleep stages, which include both REM and non-REM sleep. 

For more advice on how to get a good night's sleep, here's a link for a free sample of "The Sleep Remedy" chapter from my book, The Athlete's Way. To read more about sleep, you can also check out my Psychology Today blog posts on the topic, 

© 2016 Christopher Bergland. All rights reserved.

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