How much sleep you need at different ages, from childhood to the later years
Sleep, sleep, sleep. We all need it – and most of us don't get enough of it.
While everyone's different and some people are happier with less kip than others, how much sleep is recommended by experts changes as we age.
Young children need far more shut eye than adults, for example, as their brains develop and their bodies grow.
Here's a recap of how long professionals advise you and your child should sleep for and the different slumber patterns that emerge throughout our life.
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Babies and toddlers: 12-17 hours
It can seem like babies are brought into this world to sleep (even if it's not exactly through the night...). "Babies still have a lot of developing to do, so in a sense, humans are born too early," jokes Dr Kat, sleep therapist.
But their need to develop and grow is of course accurate, which is why babies and toddlers (ideally) need as much as 12 to 17 hours sleep in total, according to the NHS.
But this is just an average, and can vary across newborns, babies and toddlers.
While newborns are associated with being asleep more than they are awake, the total time they're actually down can range between eight to 16 or 18 hours, as per the health service. Plus, their sleep will be broken up, with them waking for feeds, or from changes in temperature.
Three to six months old
Your baby will need less feeds in the night as they grow slightly older, allowing them to sleep for longer. Some will sleep for eight hours or longer, but, as previously mentioned, every child is different and sleep comes more easily to some.
By four months, most babies spend twice as long sleeping at night than in the day.
Six to 12 months
Between six months and a year, night feeds will be even fewer and far between, or no longer needed at all, at which point some babies will sleep for up to 12 hours. But teething and hunger can still wake them during the night.
From after their first birthday, they'll likely sleep for longer, for around 12 to 15 hours in total.
Two to four year olds
Toddlers aged two will typically sleep for 11 to 12 hours at night, with a couple of daytime naps.
Meanwhile, those aged three or four will need about 12 hours on average, with some slumbering for eight and some for up to 14 (this might still include a nap in the day).
Dr Kat's top tip for helping babies and toddlers get the rest they need is: "Establish a regular sleep-wake cycle; take them outside during the day and create a soothing environment in the evening without screens."
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Children: 9-13 hours
As children grow older, their sleep patterns will change, as will how much they need. But while they need less than babies, having grown more into little humans, it's still just as essential at this stage.
Similarly, "there’s a lot to process and make sense of for children," says Dr Kat, which is why the health service recommends nine to 13 hours, which will help them with learning and coping day-to-day at school without tiredness getting in the way.
Again, all children are different, and so the amount they need to function, or are able to sleep for, will vary. Having a particular bed time and routine dependent on age and your child's sleeping behaviour can help get them into bed when it will benefit them most.
Nightmares or night terrors are some more general things that could stop children from getting a good night's sleep, but are very common, and most grow out of them.
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Adults: 7-9 hours
Adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night. But the latter, especially, can feel pretty out of reach for those juggling children/work/housework/a social life and so on.
It's certainly lucky we don't need the 17-hours some babies do, with us being more 'developed'. But, Dr Kat points out, "Our brain of course still processes and prunes itself at night, cutting back [neural] connections made during the day."
"During the day the brain makes new connections, but it can't keep them all because there is limited space," she explains. "So some get scaled back to make space for new ones the next day."
Previous research found that these 'connections' made among neurons [information messengers] in the brain shrink back nearly 20%, resetting and preparing for others, when they will grow stronger when learning new things.
So, in a nutshell, "the brain needs to restore itself and the body," says Dr Kat, which is why we should still be aiming for enough sleep as adults, as without it we can be more at risk of various health problems and conditions like heart problems, diabetes, dementia, depression, and weight gain.
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And how do men and women's sleep patterns compare? How is sleep affected for those who go through menopause?
Typically, Dr Kat explains, "According to research women have an intrinsically earlier sleep time than men do. Your sleep window is set by your body clock. This changes as we go through life; little kids go to bed early, teenagers are late, for example. Up until menopause women’s natural ‘drive’ is to go to be earlier than men (that does not mean we do go to bed earlier!)."
But, she adds, "Something changes during the menopause, and women and men’s sleep times get more similar. Either women become later or men become earlier, research is not sure."
So, should people in menopause be sleeping for a different amount of time? "No, you need the same as before," she says. "The sleep 'need' does not change but many women struggle with sleep during that time because of hot flushes, hormonal fluctuations, stress, mood/depression, lifestyle, etc."
And Dr Kat's top tip for us adults to be better at sleeping generally?
"Value your sleep. Look after it like you look after other precious ’things’ in your life. Make it a priority (not the priority though) and make time for it, don’t squeeze it in," she advises.
"If you are in constant 'doing mode' all of your waking day, don’t expect that your brain can suddenly switch over into 'resting mode', as it needs time to transition. Develop a wind-down routine and take time during the day to temporarily slow down."
It's often thought that people sleep less in the later years of their life. But how well does this actually reflect their needs?
"The common belief that we need less sleep when we reach old age (whatever that means) is probably wrong. What changes is our ability to sleep well – sleep becomes lighter and more disturbed, we tend to go to bed earlier, and maybe feel more tired in the day," Dr Kat explains.
"There are changes to your body clock, lack of light exposure and activity, and also effects of other medical conditions that affect sleep. So while there might be less sleep, it is not necessarily that this is because we need less.."
Older adults generally need the same amount of sleep, but may only have one period of deep sleep, for example, after which they wake more easily. It's also thought we tend to dream less as we get older.
What's clear is that sleep is important through all the different ages. And while we might need less of it as adults than in our younger years, that's no reason to skimp on the recommended amount now (if you can help it).
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