If you were to ask any random person on the street how many hours of sleep a person is supposed to get each night, their answer will most likely be eight hours. But where did this gold standard come from? And is it even true? Is more or less than that bad for you? Here’s what we know.
How much sleep the CDC recommends
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that once you’re beyond your teenage years, you actually need “7 or more” hours of sleep per evening, with the exact amount varying from person to person. Once you reach 61 years old, they change their recommendation to 7 to 9 hours, and from 65 year old onward 7 to 8 hours.
The CDC is careful to note that this is not a one-size-fits all recommendation, though. According to their guidance, you shouldn’t just measure your sleep by the length of your slumbers, but by its quality, as well. They warn signs of poor sleep quality include repeatedly waking up during the night, and snoring/gasping for air. These can all be signs that you’re suffering from a sleep disorder.
Short of suffering from a sleep disorder, it’s possible you just may have poor sleep hygiene. To improve your sleeping habits, the CDC recommends the following guidelines:
- Be consistent. Go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, relaxing, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Remove electronic devices, such as TVs, computers, and smartphones, from the bedroom.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before bedtime.
- Get some exercise. Being physically active during the day can help you fall asleep more easily at night.
The benefits of good sleep
A well-maintained sleep schedule bodes well for a person to be taking care of other aspects of their physical health. According to the CDC, those who get the recommended amount of sleep get sick less often, have an easier time staying at a healthy weight, experience reduced stress and improved mood, and think more clearly (thus doing better at work and school). As Dr. Merill Mitler of the National Institute of Health explains, “Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood.”
The detriments of bad sleep
According to the CDC, one-third of U.S. adults are not getting the recommended amount of daily sleep. This is significant, because a lack of sleep can have serious consequences. Not getting enough sleep has been linked to type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression, and heart disease (the latter of which is the leading cause of death among Americans).
Additionally, the CDC warns that a lack of sleep puts you at risk for accidental motor vehicle crashes, which accounted for nearly 40,000 deaths in 2019. Dr. Michael Twery of the National Institute of Health highlights the importance of sleep, explaining “sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies. It affects growth and stress hormones, our immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.”