No matter what our age is, sleep is a crucial part of our health and well-being.
When we get the optimum amount of sleep each night, our bodies are able to rest, heal, grow, and restore themselves. But when we get too much or too little, our internal systems don’t work as they should.
The amount of sleep we need changes throughout our lives. For example, children typically need more sleep than adults, and the recommended hours per night vary dramatically between 0-18.
If you’d like more information on the optimal sleep patterns for infants, toddlers, kids, and teens, click here to read our in-depth post that will answer all your child’s sleep-related questions.
But today, we will look at the recommended guidelines for adults aged 18 and above. After all, our bodies don’t stop changing when we hit adulthood. Each decade, our health needs evolve, so it stands to reason that our sleep needs do, too.
How Much Sleep do I Need by Age?
18-25 Years Old
26-64 Years Old
65 or More Years Old
Below, I’ll explain the recommendations for how much sleep an adult needs each night, depending on age.
These guidelines are suggested by the National Sleep Foundation for normal, healthy adults who don’t suffer from a sleep disorder.
1. Young Adults: 18-25 Years Old
Optimum sleep per night: 7-9 hours
Young adults’ bodies are still growing and developing, so they need plenty of high-quality, uninterrupted sleep to help the process along.
Plus, those in the 18-25 age group tend to be among the most physically active. So, with this in mind, most young people will feel at their best at the higher end of the 7-9 hour range.
2. Adults: 26-64 Years Old
Optimum sleep per night: 7-9 hours
Once we pass our mid 20’s, our bodies may no longer be growing and developing in the same way, but we still need plenty of sleep to regulate our internal processes and rest and recover before the start of a new day.
And so, the National Sleep Foundation recommends a solid 7-9 hours of sleep each night for those aged between 26-64.
Of course, many of us with kids, jobs, and responsibilities can only dream of getting a full 9 hours. But don’t worry, most people in this age range stay healthy and well rested as long as they routinely get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.
3. Seniors: 65 or More Years Old
Optimum sleep per night: 7-8 hours
As we get older, most adults gradually find themselves sleeping less on average per night. But experts are divided as to the reasons why.
Do we need fewer hours of shut-eye? Or are other processes interfering with our ability to get the optimum amount of sleep we need?
The National Sleep Foundation suggests that people aged 65 and above need slightly less sleep, around 7-8 hours per night, yet the National Institution on Aging argues that older adults have the same sleep requirements as their younger counterparts, around 7-9 hours per night.
But research (3) from the UK found that “healthy aging appears to be associated with reductions in the sleep duration and depth required to maintain daytime alertness.” So, in other words, they need sleep, but only slightly less.
Why Do Seniors Sleep Less?
Of course, not everyone over the age of 65 sees a decline in the amount of sleep they get each night, but many, if not most, do.
By the time we reach our 70s, we’re sleeping an average of half an hour less than we did during our younger years, and the gap often continues to widen.
As I mentioned above, some researchers believe seniors get less sleep because they simply need less. But others argue that our sleep requirements stay the same as we age.
So, with this in mind, what are the factors that alter our sleep once we reach our senior years?
People over 65 are more likely to nap during the day than their younger counterparts.
Of course, part of the luxury of retirement is being able to take an afternoon siesta whenever you please. But for some, excessive fatigue during the day leaves them with no other choice but to get some shut-eye while the sun is still high in the sky.
According to Clifford Saper, chairman of neurology at Boston’s Harvard Medical School teaching hospital, once people reach their 70’s (4), they’re often “Not feeling rested.” “They’re getting up because they can’t sleep anymore, but they’re still tired during the day.” He describes the phenomenon as “a sort of chronic insomnia state.”
So, for many seniors, a daytime nap is less of a luxury and more of a necessity.
2. Circadian Rhythms
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that circadian rhythms play a crucial role in our sleep patterns, and when they’re disrupted, our sleep is disrupted too.
Each of us has what is known as a ‘master clock,’ a part of the brain which forms the suprachiasmatic nucleus (or the SCN for short.)
As we age, the SCN ages with us, and its functions begin to slow down. This often disrupts our circadian rhythms, leading us to wake up earlier and more frequently than we should.
3. Health Conditions
As we age, we become more prone to developing ailments and diseases.
A poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that almost a quarter of people aged between 65 and 84 have been diagnosed with four or more common health conditions. These include heart disease, diabetes, mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and conditions that cause chronic pain, such as arthritis.
So, it is no surprise that those suffering from these common health complaints are more likely to experience disrupted sleep.
As our health conditions increase with age, our dependence on medication increases, too.
Up to 40% of people aged 65 and older are currently taking four or more regular prescription and over-the-counter medications, and many of these have side effects which can affect our sleep.
Some medications can also cause harmful drug interactions; the more we take, the more likely these sleep-affecting interactions become.
5. Nighttime Bathroom Visits
Many people need to urinate more frequently as they get older. And while repeated bathroom trips might be a minor annoyance during the day, they can be downright debilitating throughout the night.
Up to 80% of seniors suffer from frequent nighttime urination, otherwise known as nocturia, and the problem can cause an otherwise healthy sleep cycle to be thrown entirely out of balance.
No Matter Our Age, Some People Need Less Sleep
The National Sleep Foundation’s guidelines on the optimum amount of sleep needed per night are a good gauge for most people, but research suggests that these rules don’t apply to everyone.
Scientists at the University of California have discovered that some people are genetically programmed to need less sleep than others.
Their study found a mother and daughter who appeared to thrive best at just 6 hours of sleep per night.
Both women displayed a genetic mutation to the gene DEC2, which they believe is the overriding reason they wake up feeling fresh and ready to go after such a short amount of shut-eye.
Out of the study’s 250 participants, this mother and daughter were the only ones who displayed this genetic mutation. So, while the researchers aren’t sure how widespread it might be, from this sample size, we can conclude that it’s relatively rare.
But the study’s lead analyst, Ying-Hui Fu, suspects that the DEC2 mutation isn’t the only genetic coding that can change sleep homeostasis (the natural balance dictating the amount of sleep we need.) She explains, “after we find several [genes], we can get a picture of how this sleep homeostasis mechanism works, how our body regulates how much sleep we need.”
And so, their search continues.
Knowing how much sleep we need per night is the first step to optimizing our sleep cycles so we can be the healthiest, happiest, and most productive versions of ourselves.
Of course, all of us suffer a sleepless night from time to time, and there will naturally be days when we wish we’d had more shut-eye.
But while there are some exceptions, most healthy adults should follow The National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for their age group.
If you’re not hitting the minimum recommended hours of sleep per night, then help is out there.
We have plenty of in-depth and informative posts to help you improve the quality and length of sleep, including ways to fix your sleep cycle, tips for sleeping better while stressed, and how to use meditation to beat the insomnia blues.