When work, parenting and a packed social schedule leave you little time for shut-eye, you might think that getting by on just six hours of sleep a night is a good compromise.
If so, you’re not alone.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 25% of U.S. adults don’t meet the sleep recommendations of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and the Sleep Research Society.
Yet, fresh evidence indicates that getting a good night’s sleep could add years to your life.
So how much sleep is too little, and how much is enough to support a long, healthy life? Here’s what the experts have to say about how much sleep you actually need.
Is 6 hours of sleep enough?
“Everyone wants the magic number, but life is all about a range,” AASM spokesman Dr. Raj Dasgupta recently told HealthDay Now. He’s also an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
He said the range of sleep he recommends is “seven to nine hours a night, with the sweet spot being around eight.”
Dr. Nitun Verma, a sleep physician and spokesperson for the AASM, stressed that anything less could have dire consequences for your health. “Long-term consequence from inadequate sleep duration has been associated with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other cardiovascular disease,” he said.
How much sleep do I need?
The CDC bases its daily sleep recommendations on your age. Adults aged 18 to 60 should strive for a minimum of seven hours of sleep each night, while older adults may need closer to nine hours.
For teenagers, that number increases to 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. Verma noted that “the American Academy of Sleep Medicine has recommended increased sleep time for teenagers [8 to 10 hours], but early school times often mean teenagers are getting far less than that.”
That’s why the AASM recommends school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later for middle school and high school students. This helps keep sleep patterns in line with natural circadian rhythms, which change during adolescence, leading teens to stay up later at night and sleep longer in the morning.
How to get more sleep
“It’s difficult to get good sleep,” Dasgupta acknowledged. He suggested focusing on both the quality and quantity of sleep you get each night, rather than just the number of hours.
“Very special things happen in those deeper sleep stages, in REM [rapid eye movement] sleep stages, that help every single part of our body,” he explained.
Verma stressed the importance of keeping a regular sleep schedule to optimize sleep quality.
“It’s better to get all your sleep hours at once and at consistent times. If your daytime schedule allows it, have a goal of 7 to 9 hours of sleep daily at consistent times,” he said. “For some people, this may require organizing daily activities to finish before bedtime. For others, having an alarm reminding you to wind down and prepare for bed can be helpful.”
If you want to adjust your sleep schedule, the Sleep Foundation recommends picking your ideal sleep and wake times and then adjusting your sleep schedule in 15 to 30 minute increments each day.
The foundation also suggests:
- Limiting caffeine and alcohol because they can interfere with natural sleep cycles
- Keeping your room dark and quiet to support your body’s production of melatonin, which helps promote sleep
- Exercising regularly, and making sure to finish any strenuous physical activity at least two hours before going to bed
- Putting your laptop, phone or tablet “to bed” at least an hour before you do the same for yourself, to avoid the impacts of blue light emissions on sleep-wake timing
How else can you get more sleep? One study of more than 3,500 adults that was published recently in the journal Behavioral Medicine discovered a surprising path towards more restful slumber.
“Results from this study revealed significant associations between optimism and various characteristics of self-reported sleep,” study author Rosalba Hernandez, a University of Illinois professor of social work, said in a university news release.
Participants who reported higher levels of optimism were 74% more likely to have no insomnia symptoms than those who were less positive.
“Optimists are more likely to engage in active problem-focused coping and to interpret stressful events in more positive ways, reducing worry and ruminative thoughts when they’re falling asleep and throughout their sleep cycle,” Hernandez explained.
If you’d like more tips on how to get more sleep, you can check out the AASM Sleep Education Center.