Did you know today is World Sleep Day? We’re wishing we could all treat you to a dreamy, uninterrupted, full night’s sleep to celebrate (when was the last time you had that?). Although we can’t fully guarantee a full night’s sleep, what we can do is shed some light on how much sleep you actually need each night and how much sleep your little ones need as well!
Your sleep requirements will change throughout your life, and not surprisingly your sleep needs and patterns differ greatly from baby’s sleep needs and patterns, and male sleep slightly differs from female sleep as well. By learning how much sleep everyone in your family actually requires can help you all support each other to get the rest you need.
A quick review of sleep cycles
There are 4 stages of sleep: Non-REM stages 1-3 and REM sleep (aka, stage 4 sleep). The first two stages of Non-REM sleep are fairly light and work to transition you from awake to asleep, and it’s also when your body temperature and heart rate drop, getting you ready for deeper sleep in the last two stages. Non-REM stage 3 is when your deepest and quietest sleep occurs. That eventually turns into REM sleep, which provides you with the rest and recovery your brain needs to wake up feeling alert, focused, and ready for the day. It starts about 90 minutes after you fall asleep and if you’re a dreamer, this is where your dreams take place and it’s considered an ‘active’ sleep stage. A healthy nights sleep for adults generally contains 4-5 REM cycles.
How sleep needs vary throughout life
We’re breaking down every life stage and how sleep needs and habits change so you can know how best to support yourself and your family. General recommendations on optimal sleep duration have come from the National Sleep Foundation.
Fetal sleep: in the womb, your little one spends up to 95% of the day sleeping
We don’t know much about sleep during the early stages of fetal development and when sleep techincally starts, but studies have found that babies don’t show signs of REM sleep until month 7th. By the final weeks of your pregnancy, your baby is spending almost their entire day asleep. You may be wondering how that’s possible given all the kicks and wiggles, but they’ll be moving while in REM sleep!
Newborn sleep: for the first 3 months of life, your baby needs 14-17 hours of sleep
You’re probably thinking there is no way your baby is sleeping that much, because you’re only logging an hour or two yourself some nights. But this is because newborn sleep cycles are much shorter than ours! Also, because their stomach is still so small at this time, they’ll need to eat every 3 hours or so to get the energy they need. Sleep at this time isn’t just about rest, it’s actually really critical to development; a small study in 2018 found that during REM sleep, baby’s body movements may boost brain development and help newborns process their environments.
Infant sleep: from months 4-11, your baby needs 12-15 hours of sleep.
By 3 months, many babies start sleeping “through the night” or at least in longer intervals, and spend an additional 3-4 hours sleeping during the day. However, every baby is different and it can take a lot longer for some to get into that rhythm. It is important to know that some babies experience “sleep regression“, which is when their sleep patterns shift and issues may arise. This is usually tied to developmental milestones that occur at months 4, 6, 8 or 10 and sleep regression behaviors tend to last 2 to 4 weeks, but it is a sign baby is developing properly so hang in there!
Toddler sleep: from ages 1-3, your little one needs 11-14 hours of sleep.
In the toddler years, sleep needs decrease ever so slightly as nighttime sleep takes more focus, but a daytime nap will still play an important role in your little one’s health and happiness (and yours, too). Toddlers should be spending the majority of their sleep at night time with a good afternoon nap, but on average, kids at this age only get about 10 hours of sleep each day. One primary reason for this is due to a common 18 month sleep regression due to rapid and continued brain development, the production of growth hormones, and heightened feelings of separation anxiety.
Childhood sleep: from ages 4-13, your little one needs 9-13 hours of sleep.
A study in 2018 found that regular bedtime routines were linked to cognitive function, attention, and other aspects of child wellbeing, so establishing healthy routines at this time is really beneficial! Preschool aged kids can benefit from a bit more sleep (10-13 hours), and then once your child reaches school age and other activities start taking up time in their day they’re sleep range may lower to 9-11 hours.
Adolescent & young adult sleep: from ages 14-24, you need 8-10 hours of sleep.
We’ve grouped these age ranges as there is still a lot of brain development and growth that occurs until the mid-20s, and healthy sleep directly supports that. Studies show sleep promotes creativity and problem solving abilities, skills that are vital for academic success. But research from 4 different surveys have found more than 65% of adolescents get 7 hours or less of sleep each night.
Reproductive age & pregnancy-specific sleep: from ages 25-45, you need 7-9 hours of sleep.
During pregnancy the rising levels of progesterone can make you feel more tired, and research has shown that it might even shift body clocks towards needing an earlier bedtime. Research shows sleep deprivation in the first trimester may be linked to stress and depression, and in the third trimester it has been linked to higher blood pressure — so prioritizing that healthy sleep is so important.
Post-reproductive age sleep: from ages 45-65, you still need 7-9 hours of sleep.
Around 40% of women in their late 40s to early 50s report new sleep issues. This incredibly critical time in life is often overlooked but your body is going through its own transition prior to going through menopause. The hormonal fluctuations that can happen during your post-reproductive years are thought to contribute to sleep disturbances, and more than 75% of women experience hot flashes and night sweats linked to peri-menopause and eventually menopause.
Later Life sleep: from 65+, you still need 7-8 hours of sleep.
It’s a myth that older adults need less sleep than younger adults, especially since many individuals at this age have issues getting the amount and quality sleep they need. Between 40% and 70% of people in their 60s and above may have chronic sleep issues and up to half may be undiagnosed.
What about individual sleep differences?
Just like everything related to human health, emotion, and functioning, sleep needs vary from person to person. You may benefit from a bit more sleep or a bit less sleep than the recommended averages above, and that’s normal. But it’s not normal to survive on just a few hours of sleep each night for years on end… there have been cases of individuals who seem to need significantly less sleep than these averages (a few hours each night), but that’s generally been linked to gene mutations and not something that can be “learned” or “trained for” by the general public. You can read more on that here.
What seems to carry some weight is the concept of a “sleep bank“, or ways of making up for past or future lost sleep. There are times in life when you won’t be able to get as much rest as you really need (ahem… all those early baby days, weeks, and months). But making up for those sleep deprived days with good quality sleep can go a long way at protecting your health overall.
How men and women differ when it comes to sleep
Not surprisingly, historical research regarding sleep has focused predominantly on men, as is the case for most health-related topics due to the hormonal fluctuations of the female body that can be difficult to control for in clinical studies (but just because something is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it, right?). The good news is, recent studies have been casting light on the sleep differences between men and women.
It’s estimated that the average woman sleeps 8 hours and 27 minutes per night (cue the laughter from all of our expecting and new mamas…). That average sleep duration is actually 11 minutes longer than men, but that doesn’t mean women sleep better. In fact, it’s been shown that women experience lower-quality sleep in general and are more likely than men to suffer from sleep problems. Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is one of those issues that impact women more frequently, likely becuase the risk of RLS is increased by iron-deficiencies (which also affect women disproportionately). Women also have a 40% higher risk of insomnia, and it’s believed at least half of pregnant women experience insomnia.
What’s the main takeaway on how much sleep we actually need?
Our sleep needs change throughout life, but there is a range of sleep hours that research has shown to be beneficial to our emotional, mental, and physical health. In your adult years that number ranges between 7-9 hours per night. But we know that’s not always possible — and sometimes far from it during pregnancy and early motherhood. There is no denying that healthy sleep is critical to our health and wellness and we want to help you take your sleep hygiene into your own hands. In those times when you can’t increase the hours of sleep each night, you can nurture the quality of the sleep that you do get. Stay tuned for an upcoming post on how to clean up your sleep and boost your sleep quality. If you have any specific questions on sleep that you want answered here or in our upcoming post please leave them in the comments below!