Quick facts about how much sleep you need:
- For the average adult, you go through about 4 to 6 sleep cycles a night. To go through these cycles, you’ll need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep.
- Sleep recommendations are based on public health recommendations, which means you could need more, or less, to feel restored.
- Let your body sleep and wake without alarms for 10 to 14 days to find out how many hours you naturally need.
- Be careful of overestimating sleep. Awake time in bed shouldn’t count towards your total hours.
- Infants and children need their caregiver’s help to establish a healthy sleep schedule. Kids will also benefit from a 30-minute wind down routine before bed.
We’ve all experienced the benefits of good sleep before. You know that feeling when you wake up in the morning feeling refreshed, relaxed, and restored? Now think back to how much sleep that was — was it six hours of sleep or seven or eight? There is no single “right” answer because it varies from person to person. Age, environmental factors, daily sleep habits, and individual needs, from activity level to overall health, can all impact how many hours of sleep you need.
Keep reading for experts’ top tips to help you obtain an optimal amount of quality sleep. Hint: It starts with not obsessing over getting the recommended “normal” number of hours.
The average amount of sleep needed by adults and kids
Before we dive into tips, it’s good to start with a baseline. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults between 25 and 64 years of age need an average of 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Adults 65 and older need 7 to 8 hours per night. This is based on public health recommendations, but internal and external factors may change the number of hours you need.
Kids in particular need the most sleep, to promote growth and development. The amount of sleep needed varies, depending on their age, family schedules, and individual temperament.
See our chart below for how much sleep you might need by age:
|Age range||Recommended hours of sleep per day*||Ideal bedtime|
|Newborn||0-3 months||14 to 17||N/A|
|Infant||4-11 months||12 to 15||6 - 7 p.m.|
|Toddler||1-2 years||11 to 14||7 - 7:30 p.m.|
|Preschool||3-5 years||10 to 13||7 - 8 p.m.|
|School-age||6-13 years||9 to 11||8 - 9:30 p.m.|
|Teen||14-17 years||8 to 10||9 - 10:30 p.m.|
|Young adult||18-25 years||7 to 9||8 - 12 p.m.|
|Adult||26-64 years||7 to 9||8 - 12 p.m.|
|Older adult||65 years and up||7 to 8||8 - 12 p.m.|
*Per National Sleep Foundation guidelines
While determining your bedtime, consider sleep hygiene rules such as:
- Limiting screentime 1 hour before bed
- Avoiding caffeine 6 to 8 hours before bed
- Having a 30-minute bedtime routine to fully wind down and relax
Optimal bedtimes for kids to get enough sleep
“Newborns don’t really have well-organized sleep with a true bedtime until the 4- to 6-month mark,” says Lynelle Schneeberg, Psy.D., a pediatric sleep psychologist and author of “Become Your Child's Sleep Coach.”
“From the 4-to-6-month mark until the first birthday, most [experts] recommend a bedtime of 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. For toddlers, the bedtime could move a bit later, 7 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.,” she notes.
Parents will need to factor in time for their child’s bedtime routine, about 15 to 30 minutes for babies six months and up and toddlers, depending on whether it is a bath night, Schneeberg says. Even if the child has historically taken longer to settle, Schneeberg recommends capping the routine at 30 minutes. “If the routines are too long or complicated, kids are more likely to stall and try to add things to the routine.”
For school-age children, Schneeberg recommends a bedtime between 8:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.; for teens, a 9:00 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. range is ideal.
How sleep quantity aids with sleep quality
Dr. Abhinav Singh, the medical director of the Indiana Sleep Center and clinical assistant professor at Marian University, explains that two kinds of sleep take place during the night, and you need to experience both for optimal rest. “Adults typically go through four to six sleep cycles a night,” explains Singh. “This adds up to roughly about 7 to 9 hours of sleep to accommodate the range.”
The two types of sleep are:
- non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM): NREM sleep consists of sleep stages 1 to 3, which is governed by homeostasis. Stages 1 and 2 are “light” stages because it’s easier to wake up during these stages. Most of your night will be in stage 2. Stage 3, also known as deep or slow wave sleep, is when the body takes care of housekeeping, including muscle repair, growth hormone release, brain toxin cleansing, and some types of memory functions.
- rapid eye movement (REM) sleep: REM sleep, also known as dream sleep, is governed by your circadian rhythms. This is the time your brain uses to sort through memories, emotions, and general comprehension.
While certain stages are considered lighter or deeper, you can still be woken up from each.
How to prioritize quality over quantity
Have you ever gotten 8 or 9 hours of sleep and woken up feeling unrefreshed? When this happens, it indicates that the quality of sleep was insufficient, says Singh. He says that a variety of intrinsic factors can be disrupting sleep, including a partner’s snoring, restless limbs, insomnia, or sleeping in an environment that’s too hot or too cold, has too much light, or is prone to noise.
1. Figure out your natural sleep number
Instead of stressing about getting eight hours of sleep, let your body drive your sleep number. Singh cites an approach developed by his colleague Dr. Charles Joonghie Bae, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Let your body naturally fall asleep and wake up and see where the number lands. At the end of 10 to 14 days of alarm-free sleep, you will know your natural sleep needs,” he says.
Some ways to track and discover your sleep number include using sleep diary. Or for an automated approach, try a fitness or app sleep tracker. Be wary of sleep debt, which can influence how much sleep you need at first.
2. Follow your natural circadian rhythm
Rather than defining sleep as bedtime, consider when you start to feel tired or relaxed — and what time the lights are out (literally and figuratively). Figuratively, it’s when the sun sets as less light exposure triggers your sleep–wake cycle so your body will produce melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone.
“As the light fades, your sleep drive tends to rise,” says Singh. “As the light brightens, your sleep drive is repressed, and your wake drives are elevated.”
Literally speaking, turning off devices to avoid blue lights or switching bulbs to emit warm tones will also support your natural sleep-wake cycle. Adjusting your sleep schedule to your natural sleep-wake cycle will help you transition from falling asleep to being asleep much easier.
3. Choose your bedtime, based on your cycle
Now you know how many hours your body likes to sleep and around what time you start getting tired and want to relax. Take those numbers, determine what time you need to wake up, and work backwards from there. Singh says that an ideal bedtime range for adults is between 8 p.m. and midnight, though he acknowledges that individuals must consider their social and work responsibilities and intrinsic preferences, such as being a night owl versus a morning person.
Let’s say that you need to wake up by 6 a.m. and that you need 8 hours of sleep. Your bedtime, that is, the time you need to fall asleep by, would be 10 p.m. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll fall asleep right away, so you factor in the 20 to 30 minutes it takes to settle in bed, which means: If you need 8 hours of sleep and need to be up by 6 a.m., you want to be in bed by 9:30 p.m.
4. Don’t forget wind down time
Kids aren’t the only ones who benefit from a bedtime routine. Singh advises that adults give themselves 30 minutes to wind down before sleep.
He suggests what he’s dubbed the 4-Play Method: shower, journal, read, and breathe. “That becomes the routine so like a Pavlovian dog, it teaches the brain that this spells sleep,” Singh says.
- Shower or bath: This helps rev up your body temperature; as the skin dilates and loses heat, melatonin rises.
- Journal: Jot down your to-do list or thoughts, then put it away.
- Read: Spend 10 to 15 minutes listening to or reading an article or book.
- Breathe: Do a little bit of relaxed breathing with yoga or listen to a meditation.
If your bedtime was 9:30 p.m., after adding another 30 minutes for a wind-down routine, this means you’d want to start the process of getting to sleep by 9 p.m.
Of course, if you work from home or don’t have other morning commitments such as getting kids ready for school, you may be able to shift your bedtime routine later. If you are a morning person, Singh’s tip is to try and sleep before midnight. Sleeping before midnight, for most morning people, allows for adequate amounts of both non-REM and REM sleep in their natural circadian rhythm.
Be careful of overestimating how much sleep you’re getting
If you tend to toss and turn before sleep, be mindful of how much time it takes to sleep when you’re actually in bed. Overestimating sleep could lead to a chronic lack of sleep, which has been linked to health issues such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and depression.
“[Many] think they’re getting 45 minutes to an hour more of sleep [than they actually are],” Singh says. “It takes 20 minutes after your eyes shut to get into restful, restorative sleep.” That time could take even longer, however, if you do other activities in bed like reading or scrolling on your phone.
If you’re not a sleep diary person and like your tracking automated, using a sleep tracker can help you figure out what time you’ve been going to bed. “[Sleep trackers] may be slightly better at estimating quantity rather than quality,” Singh says. But at the end of the day — or in the morning — trust your body to tell you how you feel about your sleep last night.