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Getting Enough Sleep

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Updated October 30, 2008

How much sleep we need depends on what is happening in our bodies. The rapid growth of infancy and adolescence and the demands on the body during pregnancy mean more sleep. Contrary to the common sleep myth, older adults need just as much sleep as younger ones. Here is a list of sleep needs by group:

  • Infants: 16 hours a day
  • Young Children: 10-14 hours a day
  • Teenagers: 9 hours a day
  • Pregnant women: several extra hours a day in the first trimester
  • Adults: 7 to 9 hours a day
  • Older Adults: 7 to 9 hours a day

Finding Your 'Sleep Need'

A person should be alert and awake throughout the day. Some signs that you are not getting enough quality sleep include:
  • Feeling tired during the day
  • Falling asleep within 5 minutes of lying down
  • Experiencing “microsleeps” or brief “nodding off” episodes

Sleep Quality and Sleep Quantity

If you find that you are not getting enough sleep, there are two things to look at: the amount of time you spend sleeping and the quality of your sleep.
  • Sleep Time: If you spend less than 7 hours in bed (asleep) each night, you will most likely have a sleep deficit. You could also be spending enough time in bed, but have trouble falling asleep quickly. Learning good sleep habits can help you fall asleep faster and get more sleep in the same amount of time.
  • Sleep Quality: If your sleep is interrupted, if you wake up several times a night or if you toss and turn, your sleep quality may be poor. You need two kinds of sleep each night – deep sleep (sleep stage 3 and 4), which makes you feel refreshed, and REM sleep, which we don’t fully understand, but we know you need it. Developing better sleep habits can help with sleep quality.

Sleep Disorders and Problems

There are also many types of sleep disorders that can impact your sleep. The two most common sleep disorders are insomnia and sleep apnea. Less common sleep disorders include narcolepsy and restless leg syndrome (RLS). These disorders can be caused by health conditions, medications, anxiety and other factors. Narcolepsy is a rare disease that affects between 25 and 50 people per 100,000 people. RLS is more common. However, several clinical conditions are associated with RLS, such as iron deficiency, chronic kidney diseases, pregnancy, polyneuropathy, type 2 diabetes mellitus and multiple sclerosis. Many sleep disorders can be treated through a combination of changing your sleep habits and medications. Sleep apnea generally requires treatment with positive airway pressure. Many people over 65 have trouble sleeping because of health conditions.

More on Improving Your Sleep

Sources:

National Institutes of Health; National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Your Guide to Healthy Sleep. NIH Publication No. 06-5271.

Related Video
How Much Sleep is Enough for Children?

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