Let’s face it: adults don’t always have the best sleep habits. True, adults need to sleep less than children or even teenagers. But we often push the envelope and get much less sleep than we need.
This raises the question: Just how much sleep should adults get?
Sleep Needed, By Age
The National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit aimed that promotes healthy sleep, reports that the amount of sleep the average needs varies from person to person. Some people need more than others, some less.
That said, there are some rough guidelines for the amount of sleep we should be getting, according to age. Young adults (ages 18-25) and adults (ages 26-64) need around seven to nine hours of good, solid rest per night. Older adults (ages 65 and over) can get by with slightly less sleep, needing between seven and eight hours. Pregnant women may need 2-3 hours more than the usual recommendation. These ranges were determined by a panel of 18 prominent scientists and researchers who reviewed over 300 separate studies on how much sleep is ideal.
How Much Sleep Do I Need, Really?
Even with all these studies, some folks still wonder how much they can “get away with.” What’s the big deal if we miss a few hours of sleep here and there? Isn’t it OK to party with friends, as long as you get some “catch-up sleep” down the road? Can’t we get away with sleeping less at night, as long as we are eating right and napping during the day?
Before answering these questions, it is important to realize that sleep is more than just a way of avoiding being tired. Drowsiness, like hunger, is a signal to our bodies that we’re missing something very, very important. Everyone knows that we don’t just eat to stop feeling hungry; we also eat so that we can have proper nutrition and energy. Sleep is the same way: we sleep not just to stop feeling tired, but to give our bodies the proper time to adjust, repair, and grow.
If you are not getting enough sleep at night, this is known as sleep debt. Sleep debt is just the difference between the amount of sleep you should be getting and the amount you are actually getting. Various sleep disturbances can create a debt, as can staying up late to work, stay out, or even watch TV. In the U.S., most adults add to their sleep debt little-by-little every day.
The bad news is that your sleep debt cannot simply be “paid off” in one installment. For example, you can’t work late at night several days in a row and then get back to normal by sleeping through the weekend.
However: that sleep debt can be repaid little by little over time. An extra hour or two of sleep a night when you can manage it will help your body and brain catch up on their needed repair and replenishment work.
Inability to Sleep?
If you are really sleep deprived, it can take several months before you are able to pay off your sleep debt and get back into a regular sleep routine. Most sleep problems develop over time, and so it takes
That said, you can incur a huge amount of sleep debt even if you are do all the right things to get a good night’s rest. This often happens when a sleep disorder goes undiagnosed. The problems disrupting your sleep on a nightly basis, slowly adding to your sleep debt over time.
Some warning signs that you might have a sleep disorder include:
- Trouble falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
- Waking up drowsy or “groggy”
- Excessive sleep
- Chronic tiredness during the day
- Frequent snoring
- Night sweats
- Sleep walking or talking during sleep
- Moodiness during the day that accompanies any of the above
If these symptoms last more than a couple of weeks, you should visit your physician to see if there may be an underlying disorder that needs attention. Getting that seven to nine hours can be tough enough without having to work against your own body!
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