HOW MUCH SLEEP DO WE NEED?

The importance of quality sleep

I’m often asked about how much sleep is the right amount of sleep? Sleep is incredibly important to the body and the brain. Sleep is where your body finds balance for its many functions, from the emotional to the cognitive, all the way down to the immune system. While it happens out of sight, sleep is full of life-giving action. Just like you want to eat right, you want to sleep right.

I love to see all the research that is being done on sleep at the moment and the increase in awareness of the importance of quality sleep. There’s an increasing shift from people bragging about burning the candle at both ends and getting minimal sleep to now being aware of the damage that this can do and instead embracing routines that can help us get the most sleep possible.

Our sleep patterns change throughout our lives. Here is a guide to how much sleep is important at the different stages of our lives and why.

Infants

For babies, sleep is the primary activity. On average, a newborn infant sleeps 16-17 hours a day and a six-month-old sleeps for 13-14 hours a day. In that first year of life, a baby spends more than half of its time sleeping. Sleep is critical to growth and development. It also supports the formation of memories and learning new things early in life.

Children

Once kids go to school, the link between sleep and behaviour becomes clear. It’s recommended that children get between 9 to 11 hours of sleep per night when they’re in primary school. Kids thrive when they have a routine and a routine around going to bed at a similar time every night is helpful to maintain a healthy sleep pattern. When kids go to bed at 8pm one night, 10pm the next and 7pm the night after that, it’s like they’ve been on a long haul flight and have the effects of jet lag. And that’s not good for anyone. Research shows that poor sleep in childhood puts kids at risk for emotional and behavioural problems in adolescence and beyond.

Adolescents

Just like children, teens need consistent sleep patterns. It is recommended that adolescents get 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. When teens hit puberty, they get tired an hour or more later than they did as children. They start to go to bed later and naturally they wake later. The perception is that they need less sleep because they’re going to bed later and the sleep in makes teens seem lazy. The reality is that it’s their brain wanting them to get the sleep they need to grow and develop.

Adults

The standard recommendation is between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults. The reality is that responsibilities, exhaustion and hormones get in the way of your rest and achieving quality sleep. Things like pregnancy can cause shifts in your sleep schedule, and, becoming a parent is a challenging time when it comes to sleep deprivation (unfortunately babies don’t think much about the link between slumber and emotional stability!). Considering all this, adults need to work harder on sleep than other age groups. Having a sleep routine is just as important for adults as it is for children.

The Elderly

In our older years, sleep quality goes down and sleepiness goes up. Non-REM sleep, which is critical for your immune system, memory and other cognitive processes, reduces significantly as you get older. And because of this irregular sleep, you tend to be sleepier during the day.

The steps for maintaining healthy sleep as an older person are much the same as those for an adolescent and adult: avoid alcohol, stop drinking coffee in the afternoon, avoid stimulating your brain with electronic devices and most important of all, be consistent with your bedtimes. The human body really hates the feeling of jet lag - no matter what age you are.