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At its very root, society is structured around the human need for sleep. Our standard eight-hour workday runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to reflect the ways that sunrise and sundown affect our sleep cycles. We choose whether to attend certain events based on whether doing so will leave us with enough sleep to feel properly rested at work the next day.
But how much sleep do we really need? From the time we’re young, it’s drilled into our heads that we should be getting eight hours of sleep every night. We’re also often told that we spend as much as one-third of our lives asleep. However, the amount of sleep we need varies somewhat based on age.
According to two years of research conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), we require as few as 7 and as many as 17 hours of sleep per day at different points in our lives. It goes without saying that adults should not be sleeping 17 hours per day — only newborns zero to three months old should be sleeping so often. Infants four to 11 months old should sleep 12-15 hours, toddlers one to two years old should sleep 11-14 hours, and preschoolers three to five years old should sleep 10-13 hours.
When we enter our kindergarten years, that’s when we begin to fall into daily sleep ranges that better resemble the amounts we’re often told. At five through 13 years old, children should sleep nine to 11 hours (and many adults will attest that the occasional night spent asleep for this many hours is truly revitalizing). Teenagers 14 through 17 years old require the standard eight to 10 hours that many associate with good sleep, and adults require as few as seven and as many as nine hours. Note that the eight hours of sleep most frequently associated with proper rest falls exactly in the middle of this adult sleep amount range.
It’s just as important to note that all these sleep recommendations are ranges. No one amount of sleep per night will be perfect for all people in a certain age bracket. What’s more, no person sleeps perfectly every night. The omnipresence of blue light from smartphone screens, caffeinated drinks, and alarm clock usage certainly don’t help us achieve ideal, undisturbed sleep.
The amount of sleep we need may also vary by our lifestyles. Athletes, for instance, may require more (and deeper) sleep to properly recover from the stresses that their sports induce on their bodies. Some entrepreneurs have also claimed, in an attempt to motivate themselves and their coworkers or employees to work harder and more frequently, that adults need at most five hours of sleep per night to be healthy.
However, studies in addition to those performed by the NSF have debunked this false notion. Studies conducted at the NYU Langone Health’s School of Medicine came to a similar conclusion. The average adult, this NYU study says, should sleep somewhere between seven and 10 hours per night. This range allows adults to sleep one additional hour, as compared to the NSF range, and still be considered healthy. Many of us are likely to take advantage of that one hour difference — we all live for sleep.