We all need sleep, but how much shuteye does the average person actually need each night in order to feel rested? Is seven hours sleep enough or too little?
If you're having trouble sleeping eight hours a night, you aren't alone. Sleep needs vary from person to person, but experts recommend each age group get a certain amount each night for optimal health.
Experts discuss how much sleep people need, if seven hours is enough and how to get more if you aren't feeling rested.
Is 7 hours of sleep enough?
Yes, seven hours is enough sleep for the majority of adults. In a joint consensus published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society, experts recommend seven hours as the "magic number" for most healthy adults.
However, seven hours may not be enough for some people to feel rested depending on their baseline sleep needs.
“When we talk about ideal number of hours of sleep, it's actually a range,” Shelby Harris, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral sleep medicine and director of sleep health at Sleepopolis, tells TODAY.com.
Infants, children and teens need more sleep than adults, about 70% of whom need between seven and nine hours a night, says Harris.
So how do you know if seven hours if enough for you? If you wake up feeling rested and refreshed, you don’t feel sleepy throughout the day, and you can generally fall asleep and wake up around the same time, you’re probably getting enough rest, the experts note.
It’s common for people to need more sleep when they are sick, Kolla notes. Sleep is crucial for immune function, TODAY.com previously reported, so make sure you get plenty of it when recovering from illnesses such as the common cold, flu, or COVID-19, for example.
In addition to sleep duration, sleep quality and timing are also important, says Harris. Sleep quality can be affected by snoring, sleep apnea, insomnia, stress and other health issues, she adds.
Possible signs of poor sleep quality include waking up not feeling rested after getting seven to nine hours of sleep, repeatedly waking up throughout the night, and experiencing nighttime breathing difficulties, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health impacts of only sleeping 7 hours
For most people, there won't be any negative health impacts from sleeping seven hours, experts say. But only setting aside seven hours for sleep doesn't leave much wiggle room if you wake up in the night or have poor sleep quality for part of it.
“Sleep is the bedrock from which everything else is built, so it impacts almost every part of your body,” says Harris.
Even one night of too little sleep can take a toll, and more than that can cause to chronic sleep deprivation, which can lead to long-term health problems.
Drowsiness and mood changes
The following day after getting too little sleep for your body, you may feel excessively drowsy and experience heightened irritability or moodiness, Dr. Bhanu Kolla, a sleep physician and psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, tells TODAY.com.
Not getting enough sleep can impair cognitive ability and executive functioning, leading to slower reaction times and poorer working memory or performance, Dr. Andrew Varga, a neuroscientist and physician at the Mount Sinai Integrative Sleep Center, tells TODAY.com.
The acute effects of sleep deprivation can mimic those from alcohol. "You might not notice, but your concentration and coordination is going to be off," says Harris, adding that the risk of accidents and falls increases.
People who are chronically sleep deprived may not even realize how tired they are because it has become their norm. “Studies have shown that people don’t perceive themselves to be as sleepy over time, even though they’re getting less sleep than they require,” says Kolla. However, the body is still racking up sleep debt, which has a host of health consequences.
Heart and kidney problems
Sleep deprivation is associated with a higher incidence of high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and kidney disease.
Mental health problems
Consistently sleeping too little is also linked to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and Alzheimer's, says Kolla. "The longer you go getting less sleep, the greater risk," Kolla adds.
How much sleep do you need?
The AASM recommends each age group get the following amount of sleep on a regular basis:
- Infants (4 to 12 months) should sleep 12 to 16 hours per 24 hours
- Children (1 to 2 years) should sleep 11 to 14 hours per 24 hours
- Children (3 to 5 years) should sleep 10 to 13 hours per 24 hours
- Children (6 to 12 years) should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours
- Teenagers (13 to 18 years) should sleep 8 to 10 hours per 24 hours
- Adults should sleep 7 or more hours per night
The eight-hours-a-night rule for adults is a bit of a myth, says Harris. “It’s not actually that everyone needs eight hours. It’s that most people need between seven and nine. ... That’s where it comes from,” she adds.
Individual sleep needs are influenced by genetic, medical, behavioral and environmental factors, according to AASM. “Sleep duration is like shoe size. Everyone has varying sizes, but they range around the same area, with some outliers,” says Harris.
Some adults need nine or 10 hours of sleep every night to feel rested, says Harris, whereas others may find they only need seven, and sleeping more isn’t necessarily better. “The more you try to force yourself to get eight if you’re not an eight-hour-sleeper, the worse it’s going to be,” says Harris.
A tiny subset of people are considered natural “short-sleepers” because they can routinely sleep six hours a night or less and function normally without needing to catch up, Varga says, adding that short-sleepers are born with a rare inherited gene mutation.
But many people who only sleep five hours a night are not doing so because it's what their body needs. Rather, it's because they restrict themselves or aren’t able to sleep longer, the experts note.
Work schedules, social obligations, poor sleep hygiene and sleep disorders are common reasons people don’t get the recommended amount of sleep, says Harris.
How to get more sleep
"Make sleep a priority," says Harris. Between life's responsibilities and distractions, there are plenty of reasons why it can be hard to prioritize sleep, but the experts recommend the following steps:
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule
- Create a comfortable, quiet, dark sleeping environment
- Avoid screens for at least 30 minutes to one hour before bedtime
- Get regular exercise
- Limit caffeine and alcohol intake
- Avoid napping for too long or too close to bedtime, especially if you have trouble falling asleep
If you still find yourself struggling to get enough sleep or you have concerns about your sleeping habits, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist, the experts emphasize.