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Like all animals, we humans need regular sleep, along with food, water and air, to survive. We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. Though there are plenty of myths about sleep contradicting it this, the amount we sleep doesn’t vary much throughout life, except in early childhood; little ones sleep a lot (though not always when we want them to). Consequently, our sleep is also a key indicator of general health and wellbeing.

Hours of sleep

While sleep requirements vary slightly from one person to the next, healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep a night to function optimally.

From birth through teenage years, youngsters sleep way above the adult average. They need to for growth and development as well as proper functioning. There’s a clue here as to the role of sleep; young minds and bodies are growing and learning, and sleep plays a part in both.

By early adulthood, the average is seven to nine hours a night. Though many people sleep less, some even defend it by claiming that they function better on less sleep. We live in a fast-paced world and it is often tempting to slot more in at the expense of the hours we need relaxing or sleeping, but over time it’s a recipe for sleep deprivation.

Just because you can operate on less sleep than the norm, it doesn’t mean that you’ll be functioning as well as you could and that you wouldn’t feel a lot better and get more done if you spent more tile sleeping.

Older people often report sleeping less than the average, but studies  don’t bear this out. Figures from the National Sleep Foundation do show that after the age of 65 there is a slight fall in the amount people sleep, but only by an hour or so. In general, seven to nine hours is the requirement for all adults. There may be age-related reasons why older people sleep less (e.g. prostate problems in men, medication for unrelated health problems, arthritic pain etc).

Note: These figures are all taken from the UM National Sleep Foundation, you can download a chart here).

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