Safe to say most of us love our sleep—in fact, you can hardly open Instagram these days without seeing a meme about staying in bed for a few more minutes or repeatedly hitting the snooze button. On the other hand, amidst the craziness of life, it can be tempting to sacrifice a good night’s sleep in the name of getting extra work done, reading a real page-turner of a book, or binging the latest Netflix show.
For now, let’s put aside how much total sleep you’ve been getting—and talk about how much sleep you need. So, do you get sufficient sleep or not? Below, W. Chris Winter, MD, sleep specialist, neurologist, and host of the Sleep Unplugged podcast based in Charlottesville, Virginia, weighs in on everything you need to know about how many hours you should spend slumbering each night.
Why is it important to get enough sleep?
“Sleep needs to be something that individuals think about in terms of necessity for function,” Winter says. It’s like gasoline in your car as opposed to a luxury stereo—the stereo is great to have, he explains, but the car doesn’t need it to work. He also notes that continually short changing yourself in terms of sleep harms various aspects of your health. For instance, people who experience chronic sleep deprivation are more likely to develop hypertension, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes, according to Cleveland Clinic. (Intrigued? Learn more about what your sleep is worth here.)
How many hours of sleep do you need?
“It’s usually eight to 10 [hours] for teens, seven to nine for adults, and then [for] older adults, seven to eight is recommended,” Winter explains. For some people, he adds, it may be appropriate for sleep duration to fall a bit outside those recs; for instance, some adults might need ten hours per night.
As for where those guidelines come from, Winter says a National Sleep Foundation panel examined scientific evidence to determine them. He notes that they’re basically sleep sweet spots: It’s likely not healthy to get too little or too much sleep.
How much deep sleep do you need?
Deep sleep [or slow wave sleep] is a sleep stage that is considered the most restorative, Winter explains, adding that it’s the sleep we perceive as being “good sleep.” It typically makes up between 15 and 25% of your nightly rest, he says—though you tend to get less deep sleep as you get older. In fact, according to Winter, that’s why many people start to complain about their sleep quality as they age. But take note: Performing vigorous exercise early in the day (instead of close to bed) and warming up in a spa or sauna as part of your bedtime routine may promote deep sleep according to Medical News Today.
What might affect how much sleep you need?
So, we’ve determined the range of recommended hours of sleep—but what about where you fall within it? There are a few different factors that might come into play. Genetics are one: To some degree, you inherit how much sleep you need, according to Winter.
Activity level also matters. “I [often] see in athletes that I work with that when they are in season and extremely active, their sleep need seems to go up. When they’re out of season, their sleep need seems to go down a little bit,” Winter explains. He also recommends that non-professional athletes (think: your average devoted exerciser) avoid sacrificing sleep duration for extra training time. If you’ve got a big race coming up, for example, or another event where performance is really important to you, “I think that’s the time where you definitely want to make sure you’re getting enough sleep.”
Tips for Getting Enough Sleep
Admittedly, with all of life’s obligations vying for your time, fitting in sufficient zzz’s might be easier said than done. You might even find yourself staying up late (and sacrificing sleep) to give yourself more free time. But Winter has some advice for avoiding that kind of behavior: “I think probably the biggest thing is recognizing that what you want to do after work—even if it’s just watching TV or something like that—is necessary,” he says. In other words, “frivolous” activities are important, contrary to what society may have you believe (so long as you’re spending an appropriate amount of time on them).
Winter also recognizes that sleep inequity exists; for example, it’s likely much harder for a single parent to carve out time for themselves than for someone who has a partner to help watch their kids. He notes that someone in those shoes might find a way to incorporate their kids into some relaxation time. The bottom line? It’s crucial to carve out “me time” so you’re not tempted to sacrifice sleep duration in the name of leisure.