How Much Sleep do we Need

Sleep is a very important aspect of a person's everyday functionality. Without a proper amount of sleep over a long period of time, a person could experience a wide range of negative ramifications on their operational abilities, and in some cases, their health. While sleep is undoubtedly important, the actual amount of sleep that is needed varies on a person to person basis. This level of variance drills down even further to a host of different factors that are dictated by an individual's unique situations.

The Variance of Sleep Needs

It has been determined that the older a person gets, the less sleep they need in order to fully function. However, when the sleep needs of the individual are bracketed into specific age ranges, it has been determined that the amount of sleep that is needed has some individual-driven variance as opposed to a specified concrete number.

In essence, the spectrum of sleep can be sectioned into seven different eras of time spread out over a person's life. These eras are:

  1. Newborns - This era covers a person 0-2 months old. The amount of sleep needed at this age ranges from 12-18 hours.
  2. Infants - This era covers a person 3-11 months old. The amount of sleep needed at this age ranges from 14-15 hours.
  3. Toddlers - This era covers a person 1-3 years old. The amount of sleep needed at this age ranges from 12-14 hours.
  4. Preschoolers - This era covers a person 3-5 years old. The amount of sleep needed at this age ranges from 11-13 hours.
  5. School age children - This era covers a person 5-10 years old. The amount of sleep needed at this age ranges from 10-11 hours.
  6. Teens - This era covers a person 11-17 years old. The amount of sleep needed at this age ranges from 8.5 - 9.5 hours.
  7. Adults - This era covers a person 18 years until the end of life. The amount of sleep needed at this age ranges from 7-9 hours.

The reason for the range of time within each era is due to the fact that everyone has different needs based upon their own individuality. This in essence breaks down the level of sleep needed to a level that is not unlike a personality trait. Because of this, there has been scientific study designed to drill down to a genetic level as a means to determine how this particular need is individualized.

Sleep Pattern Factors

Although the actual number that is associated with the interval of sleep a person needs is variable, scientific study has determined that there are two contributing factors to a person's sleeping patterns that can influence this individual metric.

The first factor has to do with a person's basal sleep need. In essence, this is the amount of sleep that an individual needs to receive on a regular basis for optimal performance. This factor helps to set where on the sleep range an individual should lay. The second factor has to do with a metric known as sleep debt. This factor is defined as the accumulated sleep that is lost by a person as a result of varying levels of disruption to the normal sleep pattern, such as sickness, awakenings due to assorted environmental stimuli, or poor sleep habits. If too much sleep debt is accumulated over time, then an individual's basal sleep need may not be enough to satisfy the amount of debt that has been built up. In this particular case, the person may still feel sleepier and less alert at certain periods of the day, even if they get they meet their basal sleep need from the previous evening.

This manifestation of sleepiness due to excessive sleep debt can especially be felt during circadian dips; specific times within an individual's 24-hour cycle where periods of heightened sleepiness and lowered awareness naturally occur. These dips are most prominent during overnight hours as well as the mid-afternoon. Some research has indicated that over a gradual period of time, sleep debt can be 'paid off,' thus allowing a person's basal sleep need to perform its task as normal.

Performance and Lack of Sleep

If an individual routinely experiences nights where they are getting too little sleep, the potential damage can be noticeable at best, and serious at worst. A lack of sleep over time will have profound effects on how a person's mental, physical, and emotional state. For instance, a person with an insufficient amount of sleep will experience a heightened level of stress and a greater level of irritability. They will also experience a downgraded level of athletic performance and a lack of brain function in terms of memory retention and concentration.

A lack of sleep that accumulates over time could also be linked to a host of other more serious ramifications. It has been determined that insufficient sleep makes it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight, can disrupt the consistency of the immune system, and can also increase the risk of serious health issues such as Type-2 diabetes and heart failure. One of the reasons for this can be found in the correlation between sleep and anabolic processes such as muscle and tissue growth and repair. It has been determined that the greatest level of activity as it relates to anabolic processes occurs during the deep sleep stage of the sleep cycle. If a person is missing out on the sufficient amount of deep sleep stages because of a lack of sleep, they will experience a shorter window of time in which these crucial processes can occur.

Ways to Improve Sleep

In essence, there are four basic activities that a person can do in order to maintain a more consistent sleep interval. The first is to establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even during weekends. The second is to create a bedtime routine that emphasizes relaxation, such as soaking in a hot bath. The next activity would be to create a bedroom environment that is conducive to a consistent sleeping situation free of disruption. The final activity would be to exercise on a regular basis. By adhering to these sleep patterns, a person could establish a more consistent means of getting the sleep needed for a healthier, more productive lifestyle.