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How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

How much sleep?
How much sleep?
Sharon Query, Ph.D., Extension Youth Development Specialist and Assistant Professor of Practice Center for 4-H Youth Development, NDSU

Sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. Thus, to determine how much sleep you need, you must assess not only where you fall on the "sleep needs spectrum," but also examine what lifestyle factors, such as work schedules and stress, are affecting the quality and quantity of your sleep. To get the sleep you need, you must look at the big picture.

How much sleep do you really need?

AgeSleep Needs
Newborns (0 to 2 months) 12 to 18 hours
Infants (3 to 11 months) 14 to 15 hours
Toddlers (1 to 3 years) 12 to 14 hours
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years) 11 to 13 hours
School-age Children (5 to 10 years) 10 to 11 hours
Teens (10 to 17 years) 8.5 to 9.25 hours
Adults 7 to 9 hours

Although research cannot pinpoint an exact amount of sleep people need at different ages, the preceding table identifies the rule-of-thumb amounts most experts have agreed upon. Nevertheless, paying attention to your needs by assessing how you feel on different amounts of sleep is important.

Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or do you need nine hours of quality ZZZs to get 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? These are questions you must ask before you can find the number that works for you.

What You Can Do to Improve Your Sleep

To begin a new path toward healthier sleep and a healthier lifestyle, begin by assessing your needs and habits. See how you respond to different amounts of sleep. Pay careful attention to your mood, energy and health after a poor night's sleep versus a good one. Ask yourself, "How often do I get a good night's sleep?" If the answer is "not often," then you may need to consider changing your sleep habits or consulting a physician or sleep specialist.

To pave the way for better sleep, experts recommend that you and your family members follow these sleep tips:

  • Establish consistent sleep and wake schedules, even on weekends.
  • Create a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or listening to soothing music. Begin an hour or more before the time you expect to fall asleep.
  • Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep. Keep "sleep stealers" out of the bedroom: Avoid watching TV, using a computer or reading in bed.
  • Finish eating at least two to three hours before your regular bedtime.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol products close to bedtime and give up smoking.

Most importantly, make sleep a priority. You must schedule sleep like any other daily activity, so put it on your to-do list and cross it off every night. But don’t make it the thing you do only after everything else is done. Stop doing other things so you get the sleep you need.

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