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Your Guide to the Amount and Stages of Sleep You Need

Written by RIchard Smith

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Lifestyle Health

Getting enough good quality sleep is a cornerstone of good health. According to the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), sleeping well helps you:

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  • Get sick less often
  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Reduce your risk of diabetes and heart disease
  • Lower stress
  • Think clearly and make better decisions
  • Get along with others

Here’s how much sleep you need for optimal health

“The amount of time you need to sleep varies based on your age,” said Salma Patel, MD, a sleep medicine specialist at University Medical Center Tucson. It’s no surprise that babies need more sleep than older children and adults.

Here’s how much sleep you should be getting in 24 hours, including naps:

  • 4 to 12 months old: 12 to 16 hours
  • 1 to 2 years old: 11 to 14 hours
  • 3 to 5 years old: 10 to 13 hours
  • 6 to 12 years old: 9 to 12 hours
  • 13 to 18 years old: 8 to 10 hours
  • Adults: 7 to 8 hours

“Sleep needs can vary,” Dr. Patel said. “You should focus more on whether you feel refreshed when you wake up and how well you function in the daytime rather than the total number of hours you’ve slept.”

What are the stages of sleep?

As you sleep, you cycle through four stages of sleep that are important for your health:

  • NREM 1: In this stage, you doze off or transition from being awake to being asleep. You might still be aware of your surroundings and wake up easily. If you wake, you may feel as though you were not sleeping. However, you may dream.
  • NREM 2: As you move into this stage, your muscles relax, you breathe more slowly and your heart rate slows down. Your eyes stop moving. In healthy sleep, you will spend about half of your sleeping time in this stage.
  • NREM 3: This stage is also called delta or slow-wave sleep, named after the brain waves that occur at this time. In this deep sleep stage, your body rests, restores and repairs itself. It’s hard to wake up during this stage of sleep, and if you do awaken, you may feel disoriented. Early in the night, this stage lasts about 45 to 90 minutes (about one and a half hours), and it gets shorter as the night goes on. This stage decreases as you get older and may disappear in older adults.
  • REM: In rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, your brain is active, and your eyes move around. Your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure increase. This stage is when you dream, and you may remember these dreams. The REM stage gets longer later in the night.

How can you tell if you’re getting enough sleep?

If you feel tired and sleepy the next day, you probably aren’t sleeping enough or sleeping well. There are a few steps you can take to help you sleep better, according to HHS:

  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable
  • Consider exercising in the morning rather than in the evening
  • Manage any stress, anxiety or pain
  • Control any medical symptoms keeping you up, such as those that stem from heartburn and asthma

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If you try these steps and your sleep doesn’t improve, talk to your doctor or a sleep specialist. You may have a sleep disorder. For example, if you have sleep apnea, you may feel tired even though you think you’ve slept long enough. That’s because sleep apnea is preventing you from getting enough slow wave and REM sleep. Treatment can help.

The bottom line

In good quality sleep, as you cycle through the four sleep stages, your body restores and repairs itself. The younger you are, the more sleep you need.

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