Healthy sleep makes a big difference in your day, but what exactly is healthy sleep?

Sleep health is a multidimensional pattern of sleep and wakefulness based on an individual’s environment that promotes physical and mental well-being. For good health, it’s important to get enough sleep during the right time with the right amount of the various phases of sleep so that you feel rested and alert during waking hours.

Families often include children and adults of various ages. Because sleep needs vary so much depending on age, it can be difficult to develop a schedule that allows everyone to get enough sleep, especially as kids head back to school. It’s important to understand how much sleep people need at all stages of life, from infancy to retirement age. With regular habits, it’s possible to get a good night’s sleep despite busy schedules.

How much sleep do you need?

The National Sleep Foundation guidelines from 2015 recommend the following sleep ranges per night for each age group:

  • Newborns: 14–17 hours
  • Infants: 12–15 hours
  • Toddlers: 11–14 hours
  • Preschool children: 11–12 hours
  • School-age children: 9–11 hours
  • Teenagers: 8–10 hours
  • Young adults and adults: 7–9 hours
  • Older adults: 7–8 hours

What can you do to help young children develop healthy sleep patterns?

Newborns (ages 0–3 months) don’t have an internal biological clock or circadian rhythm (an internal 24-hour clock that tells you when to feel awake or sleepy). They sleep a few hours at a time for a total of 16 hours around the clock. Middle-of-the-night feedings interrupt both parents’ and babies’ sleep for a while. As the baby matures to 3–4 months, they should be able to sleep five to 10 hours at a time.

You can help your baby (0–11 months) adapt healthy sleeping patterns by providing a calm bedtime routine with bathing, singing or reading, putting your baby down to sleep while they are still awake so they learn the process of falling asleep in bed, and allowing your baby to cry as they settle down finding a comfortable position to fall asleep. If they don’t settle down after a few minutes, check to make sure they are okay. Research suggests using a pacifier at night to calm a baby and help reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

As your baby grows, you will start to see their natural patterns of being early risers or having a preference for being up later at night. Infants (ages 4-11 months) are often sleeping through the night by 6 months and usually take only a couple naps during the day. Toddlers (ages 1–3 years) usually need one nap about 1–3.5 hours long. Preschool-aged children usually grow out of napping by age 5. By the time children reach school age (7–12 years), family and school activities keep them up later with the average amount of daily sleep around 9 hours.

How is sleep different for teenagers?

Most teenagers get an average of 6.8 hours of sleep per night when many could use 10 hours a day. Recent studies show that the circadian rhythm or biological clock of a teen is temporarily set to falling asleep later and waking up later. Teens may have difficulty falling asleep early, possibly due to melatonin (a natural hormone in the body that helps control the body’s sleep cycles) in the brain being produced later at night.

Teens who don’t get enough sleep may have trouble solving problems, making decisions, remembering things and coping with change. They may take longer to finish projects and make more mistakes. Sleep deprivation can influence mood, hinder the ability to perform well in sports and may lead to symptoms of depression.

Young, inexperienced drivers who are sleep impaired are linked to an increase in car crashes and near misses. Additionally, studies show insufficient sleep in teens has been associated with an increase in risky behaviors, such as substance use, binge drinking, poor nutrition and decreased physical activity. Conversely, teens who get adequate or higher amounts of sleep have been shown to get better grades and perform better in sports.

What factors can affect sleep for young adults and adults?

The circadian rhythm remains steady throughout adulthood, yet about 1/3 of adults in the U.S. get less sleep than the recommended amount. Getting adequate sleep is important for your physical and mental wellbeing to perform your best in school, at work and while driving. Driving while tired has been associated with more than 100,000 accidents, 40,000 injuries and 1,500 fatalities in the U.S. every year, according to the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration. Remember that driving while sleep deprived is dangerous and accidents can be fatal.

Some conditions that can cause issues with sleep include type 2 diabetes, obesity, depression and heart disease. Common sleep disorders may disrupt adults’ sleep, such as:

  • Insomnia, an inability to fall or stay asleep.
  • Narcolepsy, which is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and muscle weakness.
  • Restless legs syndrome, which causes an uncomfortable “creeping” sensation in the lower legs.
  • Sleep apnea, involving short periods of stopped breathing which interrupts sleep.

Seek help from a health care provider for sleep issues.

How does sleep change for older adults?

Older adults (65 years and older) start to lose consistency in their internal clock or circadian rhythm. Older adults tend to sleep fewer hours per night, get tired earlier and wake up earlier. They may have a more difficult time falling asleep, stay in deep sleep for shorter periods of time and wake in the middle of the night more often. Some causes for this may be drinking coffee and alcohol before bedtime, but health conditions can also affect their sleep. Consult with your health care provider if you have trouble sleeping.

What are some roadblocks to adequate sleep levels?

  • Consuming caffeinated drinks, such as soda, coffee and energy drinks, four to six hours before bed may make falling asleep difficult.
  • Watching violent, scary or action movies or TV shows get the mind and heart rate racing, making it challenging to wind down for bed.
  • Taking naps longer than 30 minutes or too close to bedtime may keep you awake at night.
  • Late night studying or working overtime can cause sleep deprivation and may actually negatively impact performance.
  • Work schedules can interfere with adequate sleep levels.

Tips for getting the appropriate amount of sleep

  1. Establish a routine of going to bed and rising at the same time each day.
  2. Create a sleep environment that is dark, quiet and relaxing.
  3. Remove televisions, computers, smartphones and other screens from your bedroom to decrease distractions that can keep you awake.
  4. Avoid big meals and caffeine four to six hours before bedtime.
  5. Prioritize life activities to allow time for sufficient sleep.

Improve the physical and mental health of everyone in your family with good sleep habits.