According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult in the USA today sleeps less than 7 hours per night. In today's fast-paced society, it is not uncommon for people to get only 5 or 6 hours of sleep per night. They may think this will add to their productivity but, in reality, less than seven hours of sleep for an adult can lead to problems. At any age, getting enough sleep boosts your immune system and helps your nervous system work properly.
Likewise, too little sleep can leave you drowsy and unable to concentrate. Lack of sleep also impairs memory and overall physical performance. Further, research studies now show that both too little sleep (less than 7 hours) and too much sleep (more than 9 hours) can lead to an increased risk of weight gain in adults. Specifically, a lack of adequate sleep time may lead to the following undesirable and potentially dangerous results.
- Fatigue, lethargy, and lack of motivation
- Moodiness, irritability, and inability to cope with stress
- Reduced creativity and problem-solving skills
- Reduced immunity leading to frequent colds and other infections
- Concentration and memory problems, including difficulty making decisions
- Impaired motor skills with increased risk of automobile and other accidents
- Weight gain due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation
- Increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems
While sleep requirements may vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. As you can see below, children and teens need even more. If one has trouble sleeping this long at night, daytime naps can help fill in the gap. Here are the current recommended guidelines, based on age.
- Newborns (0 to 2 months) 12 to 18
- Infants (3 months to one year) 14 to 15
- Toddlers (1 to 3 years) 12 to 14
- Preschoolers (3 to 5 years) 11 to 13
- School-age Children (5 to 12 years) 10 to 11
- Preteens and Teens (12 to 18 years) 8.5 to 10
- Adults (18 years and older) 7 to 9
You may be able to "get by" on less than seven hours of sleep, but know there is a big difference between the amount of sleep you can "get by" on and the amount you need to function at your best. Just because you're able to operate on less than seven hours of sleep per night doesn't mean you wouldn't feel a lot better and get more done if you spent an extra hour or two in bed.
If you are an adult getting the proper amount of sleep of seven to nine hours, you'll feel energetic and alert all day long, from the moment you wake up until your regular bedtime.
As you get older, your sleeping patterns may change.Current research shows that older adults tend to sleep more lightly and awaken more frequently during the night than do younger adults.
However, there is no evidence that older adults need less sleep than do younger adults.
So how many hours of sleep are enough for you? Current research shows it is best to have about seven to nine hours of quality sleep a night. If you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you may not be getting enough sleep.
The bottom line is that adults still need at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Because this is so important to your long term health, if you are having sleep difficulties, talk to your personal health care provider and consider seeing a sleep medicine specialist.
Editor's note: Dr. Jim Surrell, author of "SOS (Stop Only Sugar) Diet," has his practice at the Digestive Health Clinic at Marquette General Health System. Requests for health topics for this column are encouraged. Contact Dr. Surrell by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.