Too Much, Too Little or at the Wrong Time: The Reality of How Sleep Affects Health

It should come as no surprise to anyone to hear that adequate sleep is needed for good health. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Being tired results in the same delayed response and lack of clear thinking normally associated with consuming alcohol. Drowsy drivers cause an estimated 6,000 automobile accidents each year. Learning rates are affected in children and depression rates increase as sleep hours decline. The question most people ask is how much sleep they need and how those numbers may change during different stages of life.

How Needs Change

The amount of sleep a person needs is not the same throughout life. The most sleep is needed when the body is growing its fastest during infancy and early childhood. Teenagers require less sleep than younger children and the number drops along with age, but not as much as many people may expect.

  • Newborns need 14 – 17 hours of sleep a day.
  • Infants from four months to one year require 12-15 hours.
  • Each additional stage of adolescent growth (toddler, pre-school, school-age and teenager) requires one less hour per stage.
  • Adults require 7-9 hours.
  • The maximum amount of sleep drops to 8 hours past the age of 65.

When to Sleep

When sleep happens is also a concern. Children under the age of four will not get all their sleep at one time. Their rapidly changing bodies need naps to recharge during the day. Adults and teens thrive when their sleep is continuous because it is the only way they receive an adequate amount of deep, restorative sleep. Sleeping at night allows people to follow the circadian rhythm and keep their hormone levels balanced and their immune system strong. However, not everyone has that option. Most sleep experts agree that this risk is easily managed by adopting a sleep schedule and sticking with it every day. Shift workers that attempt to adjust their sleep schedule on the weekends could damage their health despite getting what seems to be an adequate amount of rest.

Surprisingly, sleeping too much is as dangerous as not sleeping enough. Over-sleepers suffer the same health risks as someone with sleep deprivation. The healthiest and happiest individuals are those that carefully monitor their sleep. Establish a schedule, learn the tricks for falling asleep quickly and do not give in to the temptation to sleep in on weekends.