The organization that researches the impact of sleep on the health of Americans has revised its recommendations, which now includes distinct sleep categories for young adults and elderly adults for the first time.
For the most part, adults — anyone over the age of 18 — still require about 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night to avoid health issues, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Teenagers need a little more sleep. School-age children and younger kids need even more sleep.
But most surveys show American adults are not getting adequate rest based on either the NSF guidelines or those by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Eighteen scientists and researchers came together to form the NSF’s expert panel tasked with updating the official recommendations. The panelists reviewed more than 300 current scientific publications and voted on how much sleep is appropriate throughout a person’s lifespan.
Many lifestyle factors have fueled a lack of sufficient sleep among Americans, including longer work hours (both at the office and remotely from home), family obligations and too much dependence on electronic devices such as tablets and smartphones. The disruption in sleep patterns has also been linked to the national obesity epidemic.
Shorter sleep cycles contribute to being overweight and obesity, says Jeremy Tabak, M.D. , medical director of Baptist Sleep Center at Galloway and Baptist Hospital’s Sleep Diagnostic Center.
It’s important to pay attention to your own individual needs by assessing how you feel on different amounts of sleep, Dr. Tabak says.
“When people are thinking about a healthy lifestyle, they have to consider what they eat and if they exercise, but how much sleep they are getting should be right up there with a healthy diet and exercising regularly,” says Dr. Tabak.
A Range of Health Issues
Sleep diagnostic centers  can help patients diagnosed with sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea. But many people who don’t get enough sleep may not suffer from these conditions. Nonetheless, their disrupted circadian biological clocks can contribute to a range of serious health issues, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, headaches and depression. The body’s internal circadian clocks regulate the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day.
“Most people can judge by how they feel if they are getting enough sleep,” said Dr. Tabak. “The big problem is that they try to push themselves by cutting back on sleep. They have busy jobs or need to spend more time with families. The one thing that they think they can give up is a little sleep. But there is a price to pay for getting by on 6 hours of sleep or less. This is not healthy.”
The NSF recommends that individuals ask themselves the following questions when it comes to their sleeping habits:
- Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear?
- Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease?
- Are you experiencing sleep problems?
- Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day?
- Do you feel sleepy when driving?
The NSF panel revised the recommended sleep ranges for all six children and teen-age groups. A summary of the new recommendations follows (also see chart):
- Newborns (0-3 months): Sleep range narrowed to 14-17 hours each day (previously it was 12-18)
- Infants (4-11 months): Sleep range widened two hours to 12-15 hours (previously it was 14-15)
- Toddlers (1-2 years): Sleep range widened by one hour to 11-14 hours (previously it was 12-14)
- Preschoolers (3-5): Sleep range widened by one hour to 10-13 hours (previously it was 11-13)
- School age children (6-13): Sleep range widened by one hour to 9-11 hours (previously it was 10-11)
- Teenagers (14-17): Sleep range widened by one hour to 8-10 hours (previously it was 8.5-9.5)
- Younger adults (18-25): Sleep range is 7-9 hours (new age category)
- Adults (26-64): Sleep range did not change and remains 7-9 hours
- Older adults (65+): Sleep range is 7-8 hours (new age category)