How much sleep do you need?

Amy Gallagher
Senior Sleep Physiologist at Cromwell Hospital
04 October 2023
Next review due October 2026

Having a bad night’s sleep can affect the day ahead, and not sleeping well regularly, over time, can impact your health and wellbeing. But how much sleep do we need to maintain good health? And, does the amount of sleep we need change as we get older?

Here, I explore how much sleep we need and look at how this changes as we get older.

an adult changing bedsheets

How many hours of sleep do you need?

Getting quality sleep each night can help you stay healthy. But, it’s believed that many people aren’t getting enough. A long term lack of sleep increases our risk of diabetes, depression, and may increase our risk of some cancers. It can also make it harder to maintain a healthy weight.

On average:

  • adults between the ages of 18 and 65 need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep
  • adults 65 and older are recommended to get between 7 and 8 hours of sleep

Babies and children need a lot more sleep than adults. In a 24-hour period:

  • 1 to 3 year olds need 12 to 14 hours of sleep, including naps
  • 3 to 6 year olds need 10 to 12 hours of sleep
  • 7 to 12 year olds need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep
  • 12 to 18 year olds need 8 to 9 hours of sleep

Is too much sleep bad?

Sometimes, we can have too much of a good thing. Sleeping in on weekends can disturb our usual sleeping pattern and affect how well we sleep during the week ahead.

Feeling very sleepy or experiencing excessive sleepiness during the day can also be a sign of an underlying health condition, such as obstructive sleep apnoea. If you’re struggling to feel alert and awake, or if daytime sleepiness is affecting your daily life, visit your GP.

What are the different stages of sleep?

At night, as we gradually move through the first 3 of the 4 sleep phases, our sleep becomes deeper. We then move into the fourth stage of sleep, known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

After completing the REM phase, we re-enter stage one to repeat the cycle again.

To feel refreshed when we wake up, we ideally need to go through 5 or 6 cycles of the 4 sleep stages. The 4 sleep stages are:

  • Stage 1 (NREM1). This is the lightest stage of sleep, and you can wake easily during this phase.
  • Stage 2 (NREM2). This phase is light, but deeper than stage 1. We spend around half of our time asleep in this phase.
  • Stage 3 (NREM3) or ‘slow-wave sleep’. This phase of sleep is important for repairing the body and maintaining health. It’s the deepest phase of our sleep, and if you wake up during it you might feel confused. We typically spend around a quarter of our time asleep in this stage.
  • Stage 4, or rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. We typically dream during REM sleep, and it’s important for brain function and development. We spend a quarter of our time asleep in the REM phase.

What are common signs that you haven’t had enough sleep?

We’ve all missed out on a good night’s sleep before. Common signs include:

  • irritability
  • feeling sleepy
  • having difficulty concentrating
  • feeling less able to cope with stress

Having consistently poor sleep over time can increase your risk of:

Poor sleep can also affect our brain’s ability to learn and function. And it increases our risk of being involved in accidents. For example, if you have untreated obstructive sleep apnoea, there is a legal requirement to notify the DVLA, and undergo treatment before returning to driving.

How can I get a good night’s sleep?

Here are six steps to help improve your sleep.

1. Create a routine

Try to get up and go to sleep at the same time each day. This can help establish a sleeping pattern and make it easier for your body to prepare for sleep.

2. Limit screen time

Our smartphones and laptops produce blue light which can prevent our body from releasing the hormones that make us sleepy. Try to avoid using electronics before bed and check to see if your phone has settings to reduce blue light during the evening.

3. Avoid alcohol and cigarettes

Alcohol and cigarettes contain stimulants that can keep us awake and affect the quality of sleep we get. You might think a glass of wine before bed helps you to relax, but drinking alcohol before bed can lead to a disturbed night of sleep.

4. Don’t watch the clock

Looking at the clock when trying to fall asleep can make you feel anxious and pressured. Try practising some mindfulness or relaxing breathing exercises instead to help you relax. And, if you can’t sleep, get out of bed and do something else until you feel tired.

5. Reduce your caffeine intake

Caffeine can give us a boost in the morning but it’s a good idea to avoid it at night. Don’t have any caffeinated drinks at least 8 hours before you’d like to sleep. Avoid chocolate or drinking hot chocolate before bed too, as these can also contain caffeine.

6. Keep your bedroom cool and cosy

The ideal temperature for sleeping is between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius, and keeping your room dark can help let your body know it’s time for sleep. Why not invest in some blackout blinds? And, a fan can help you to sleep well when it’s hot.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health and a view of any future health risks. You'll receive a personal lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a happier, healthier you.

Amy Gallagher
Amy Gallagher
Senior Sleep Physiologist at Cromwell Hospital



Lucy Kapoutsos, Health Content Editor at Bupa UK

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