What is good sleep and how much do I need?

happy woman sleeping

Be honest — how often do you get a truly good night’s sleep? If the answer is “not often enough,” read on to understand why nighttime slumber is so important.

Sleep is when important processing, restoration and strengthening occur throughout your immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Good sleep benefits your whole body including your heart and brain with effects such as improved mood, memory and reasoning.

“Sleep affects all aspects of life and the body,” said Marie-Pierre St-Onge, an associate professor of nutritional medicine at Columbia University in New York City and a prominent sleep researcher.

How much sleep do you need?

The amount of sleep each person needs will vary, but the National Sleep Foundation recommends at least:

  • 14-17 hours for newborns (0-3 months)
  • 12-15 hours for infants (4-11 months)
  • 11-14 hours for 1- and 2-year-olds 
  • 10-13 hours for 3- to 5-year-olds
  • 9-11 hours for 6- to 13-year-olds
  • 8-10 hours for 14- to 17-year-olds
  • 7-9 hours for adults
  • 7-8 hours for adults 65 and older

When you sleep, your brain processes all the information it’s taken in throughout the day. That’s one reason babies and children who have lots of new experiences each day need more sleep than adults.

Other factors besides age also influence how much sleep you need. For instance, you might need more sleep if you’re sick or if your sleep is interrupted more often than usual, such as during pregnancy, early parenthood or menopause.

What is good sleep?

In addition to quantity, the quality of sleep you get is important. Tossing and turning in bed for 12 hours won’t be as good for you as seven uninterrupted hours of sleep.

“Quality sleep needs to be of adequate duration, restorative so you feel energized in the morning, consolidated and at appropriate times,” St-Onge said. That means you need several continuous hours of restful sleep each night.

Ideally you want to go through multiple cycles of all five sleep stages. The stages start with feeling drowsy and advance through deeper sleep until you reach rapid eye movement or REM sleep — when your brain is the most active and dreaming occurs. It’s during this stage that learning and memory are affected.

How do you get better sleep?

St-Onge, who is also director of Columbia University’s Sleep Center of Excellence, suggests it’s never too early to learn about good nighttime habits.

“Teaching your kids about sleep hygiene will help the whole family get better rest,” she said.

Her advice: Set and keep specific bedtimes and wake-up times and stick to a consistent schedule as much as possible.

“Your body likes routines,” she said, adding that these schedules help regulate hormones and take advantage of your natural circadian rhythms.

Are you a weekend sleep warrior who crams more sleep in on certain days? That could do more harm than good. In fact, a recent study found that people with irregular sleep patterns can have increased risk for some serious health conditions.

People whose sleep problems persist despite their best efforts should see a medical professional to rule out breathing or health issues, St-Onge said.

She added that your bedroom can help you get better sleep. Try to make your bed as comfortable as possible, keep your room at a cool temperature and avoid unnecessary bright light and technology use before bedtime.


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