The amount and type of sleep you need changes as you get older. However, how much sleep you need isn’t just about your age. Different people need different amounts; there is no magic number and you may find you need much more, or much less, than the average person. It isn’t always how long you sleep for that matters, but the quality of your sleep. Your needs for sleep can also change from day to day depending on the challenges you’re facing.
The information here is a general guide to how your need for sleep changes throughout the different stages of your life. However, as long as you’re feeling refreshed and alert the next day, you’re probably getting enough.
Babies develop at a rapid pace – they need about 17 hours of sleep each day to cope with this and help them to take in all the new things they are learning.
Your internal body clock that ties your sleep in with the daily cycle of day and night isn’t fully developed when you’re first born. Babies develop this during the first six months of their life and gradually adjust to sleeping more at night than during the day. It’s a good idea to get your baby into a set routine when he or she is around six to eight weeks old, to help prepare your baby for sleep.
Babies, like adults, alternate between periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (known as ‘active sleep’ in babies), which is when you dream, and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM) sleep (known as ‘quiet sleep’ in babies) – when you go into deep sleep (see The science of sleep for more information about the different types of sleep). However, babies spend a much higher proportion of their time in REM sleep than adults and less time in deep non-REM sleep, which means they wake more easily. They also alternate between the different stages much more often, which means they naturally wake more often during the night than adults do. However, they often fall back to sleep on their own within a few minutes.
Toddlers are very active and so need plenty of rest – most one to two-year-olds need between 10 and 13 hours of sleep a day. Some parents find that it’s better to let their toddler have one long sleep during the night, while others find it works best to let their toddler have a nap during the day and a shorter night-time sleep. If you’re a parent of a toddler, it’s important to work out what’s best for you and your child and to get into a set routine that works for you.
Active dreams and nightmares can start to be a particular problem at this age. Take some practical steps to try and prevent your child having nightmares, such as selecting what television programmes, if any, your toddler sees before he or she goes to bed.
Children are very active, and are learning and developing at a fast rate, so they still need plenty of sleep. Children’s sleep needs can vary – they generally need about nine to 10 hours of sleep per night and may gradually require less as they get older. As at any age, there is no set amount of time for how long we should sleep, but as a parent, you can judge if your child is getting enough sleep and exactly how much they need.
Teenagers generally need about nine hours sleep each night – however, they often don’t get enough. It’s not uncommon for teenagers to want to stay up late at night and then complain about getting up early for school in the morning; however, there may be some biological reasoning behind it. Your natural sleep pattern changes when you reach your teenage years. A hormone called melatonin, which is thought to promote sleepiness, is produced later in the evening when you’re a teenager – making you feel sleepy later at night. This is called delayed sleep phase syndrome.
If your teenager uses gadgets before going to bed, such as computers or mobile phones, the exposure to light and the stimulation to their mind can delay the onset of sleep. It’s best not to have any computers or televisions in your teenager’s bedroom so they aren’t tempted to turn them on.
Trying to go to bed at around the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning will help teenagers to get the sleep they need.
In general, adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep. However, some people can function after sleeping for much less time. You can cope with the occasional night of no or reduced sleep – you’ll just feel tired the next day. However, an ongoing lack of sleep (insomnia) may affect you both physically and mentally. This may impact on your ability to work productively or to do certain activities – such as driving – safely. See your doctor if you have problems sleeping and this affects how you function during the day. Your doctor may be able to give you advice on how to change your environment to help you sleep or may refer you to see a specialist, such as a sleep physician (a doctor who specialises in identifying and treating sleep-related disorders).
The need for sleep doesn’t seem to decrease as you age – eight hours continues to be the optimum for most people. However, you generally have less deep sleep when you get older. As you sleep more lightly, you may wake more easily after the first three to four hours of sleep – and may find it harder to get back to sleep after you wake. Other health issues, such as needing to go to the toilet more often due to prostate problems, pain from osteoarthritis, and anxiety and depression may also impact on the amount and quality of sleep you get.
If you don’t get enough sleep at night, you may find yourself falling asleep more during the day. You may also find that you fall asleep earlier in the day and wake earlier in the morning.
Getting over changes to your sleep patterns (eg adjusting after jet lag), can also take longer when you’re older.
- Sleeping well. Royal College of Psychiatrists. www.rcpsych.ac.uk, published June 2011
- All about sleep. KidsHealth. www.kidshealth.org, published January 2011
- Sleep and newborns. KidsHealth. www.kidshealth.org, published September 2011
- Coping with tiredness. National Childbirth Trust. www.nct.org.uk, accessed 17 July 2012
- Normal sleep, sleep physiology, and sleep deprivation. eMedicine. www.emedicine.medscape.com, published 5 December 2011
- Teenage sleep. Sleep Health Foundation. www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au, published 2011
- Delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS). Sleep Health Foundation. www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au, published 2011
- Garrison MM, Liekweg K, Christakis DA. Media use and child sleep: the impact of content, timing, and environment. Pediatrics 2011; 128(1):29–35. doi: 10.1542/peds.2010-3304
- Ker K, Edwards PJ, Felix LM, et al. Caffeine for the prevention of injuries and errors in shift workers. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2010, Issue 5. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD008508
We’d love to know what you think about what you’ve just been reading and looking at – we’ll use it to improve our information. If you’d like to give us some feedback, our short form below will take just a few minutes to complete. And if there's a question you want to ask that hasn't been answered here, please submit it to us. Although we can't respond to specific questions directly, we’ll aim to include the answer to it when we next review this topic.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
Produced by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Heath Information Team, October 2012.
Let us know what you think using our short feedback form Ask us a question
About our health information
At Bupa we produce a wealth of free health information for you and your family. We believe that trustworthy information is essential in helping you make better decisions about your health and care. Here are just a few of the ways in which our core editorial principles have been recognised.
Information StandardWe are certified by the Information Standard. This quality mark identifies reliable, trustworthy producers and sources of health information.
Plain English CampaignWe hold the Crystal Mark, which is the seal of approval from the Plain English Campaign for clear and concise information.
What our readers say about us
But don't just take our word for it; here's some feedback from our readers.
“Simple and easy to use website - not alarming, just helpful.”
“It’s informative but not too detailed. I like that it’s factual and realistic about the conditions and the procedures involved. It’s also easy to navigate to areas that you specifically want without having to read all the information.”
“Good information, easy to find, trustworthy.”
Our core principles
All our health content is produced in line with our core editorial principles – readable, reliable, relevant – which are represented by our diagram.
In a nutshell, our information is jargon-free, concise and accessible. We know our audience and we meet their health information needs, helping them to take the next step in their health and wellbeing journey.
We use the best quality and most up-to-date evidence to produce our information. Our process is transparent and validated by experts – both our users and medical specialists.
We know that our users want the right information at the right time, in the way that suits them. So we review our content at least every three years to keep it fresh. And we’re embracing new technology and social media so they can get it whenever and wherever they choose.
Here are just a few of the ways in which the quality of our information has been recognised.
The Information Standard certification scheme
You will see the Information Standard quality mark on our content. This is a certification programme, supported by NHS England, that was developed to ensure that public-facing health and care information is created to a set of best practice principles.
It uses only recognised evidence sources and presents the information in a clear and balanced way. The Information Standard quality mark is a quick and easy way for you to identify reliable and trustworthy producers and sources of information.
Certified by the Information Standard as a quality provider of health and social care information. Bupa shall hold responsibility for the accuracy of the information they publish and neither the Scheme Operator nor the Scheme Owner shall have any responsibility whatsoever for costs, losses or direct or indirect damages or costs arising from inaccuracy of information or omissions in information published on the website on behalf of Bupa.
We comply with the HONcode (Health on the Net) for trustworthy health information. Certified by the HONcode for trustworthy health information.
Plain English Campaign
Our website is approved by the Plain English Campaign and carries their Crystal Mark for clear information. In 2010, we won the award for best website.
Website approved by Plain English Campaign.
British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards
We have received a number of BMA awards for different assets over the years. Most recently, in 2013, we received a 'commended' award for our online shared decision making hub.
If you have any feedback on our health information, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can write to us:
Health Content Team
15-19 Bloomsbury Way