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Are you getting enough sleep? Experts release new recommendations

Of course, sleep needs are highly individualized, but there are some clear, age-based guidelines.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends school-age children get 9-11 hours of sleep a night.

Ask most people how much sleep they think they need, and they’re likely to answer, “Much more than I’m getting now.”

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For, apparently, we’re a very sleep-deprived nation. According a 2011 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than a third of American adults get less than the recommend minimum of seven hours of sleep during an average 24-hour period.  A similar percentage of people also acknowledge having unintentionally fallen asleep during the day at least once in the previous month, and 5 percent admit to having nodded off while driving during the previous month.

That last statistic is particularly scary, given that lack of sleep is a known contributor to traffic accidents, as well as to industrial disasters and medical and other occupational errors.

Source: National Sleep Foundation

But sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on our physical and mental health as well, contributing to such chronic diseases as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and depression.

No wonder the CDC has declared insufficient sleep a public health epidemic.

Nine age groups

How much sleep do you and other members of your family need? Well, if you’ve been using the very popular and long-standing National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations as your guide, you might want to revisit them. This week, to mark its 25th anniversary, the foundation published updated recommendations — ones based on the very latest scientific research on the topic.

These new recommendations were two years in the making and involved an 18-member panel of sleep experts and others from 12 different professional health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Geriatrics Society and the American Psychiatric Association. The experts reviewed 312 peer-reviewed studies published between 2004 and 2014 that had investigated sleep duration and its effects on human health and behavior.

Based on that exhaustive review, the experts came up with the following new recommendations. Most of the changes affect children and teens, but the experts also added “younger” and “older” adults categories: 

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours (sleep range narrowed; previously it was 12-18 hours)  
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours (sleep range widened by two hours; previously it was 14-15 hours)
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours (sleep range widened by one hour; previously it was 12-14 hours)
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours (sleep range widened by one hour; previously it was 11-13 hours)
  • School age children (6-13): 9-11 hours (sleep range widened by one hour; previously it was 10-11 hours)
  • Teenagers (14-17): 8-10 hours (sleep range widened by one hour; previously it was 8.5-9.5 hours)
  • Younger adults (18-25): 7-9 hours (a new age category)
  • Adults (26-64): 7-9 hours  (sleep range unchanged)
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hours (a new age category) 

What’s not recommended

Of course, sleep needs are highly individualized, so you should use these recommendations as guides, not as absolute rules for how much sleep you need. Still, the experts did also include a “not recommended” sleep-duration category for each age group:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): not less than 11 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months): not less than 10 hours or more than 18 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): not less than 9 hours or more than 16 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years)not less than 8 hours or more than 14 hours
  • School-aged children (6-13 years): not less than 7 hours or more than 12 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17 years): not less than 7 hours or more than 11 hours
  • Young adults (18-25 years): not less than 6 hours or more than 11 hours
  • Adults (26-64 years): not less than 6 hours or more than 10 hours
  • Older adults (65 years or older): not less than 5 hours or more than 9 hours

Time asleep, not time in bed

The experts note that the recommendations reflect actual sleep time, not time spent in bed trying to fall asleep. They also point out that even if you’re getting the recommended duration of sleep, that sleep may be of poor quality, which can also leave you feeling tired, groggy — and accident-prone — the following day.

For strategies on how to improve both your sleep duration and your sleep quality, go to the foundation’s website. You’ll find a similar list of helpful tips and other resources at The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s website.