person sitting on the edge of a bed with their back to us reaching up and stretching with the sun shining in through the window in front of them.

Health Mythbusting: How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?

February 9, 2022
5 minutes
Lifestyle & Wellness

The energy we feel when we're awake is often related to how much sleep we get at night. 

We can all relate to the dreaded feeling of taking on the day after a night of poor sleep. Your body feels worn out, and your brain is full of fog.

During sleep, our body works to support and maintain our physical health and healthy brain function.

In a sense - your body recharges and repairs itself during this time.

Whether you’re striving to perform and feel your best with sports, work, or family life - sleep plays a critical role. 

But, how much sleep do we really need? 

When we asked our members the common health myths and practices they believed in - getting 8 hours of sleep every night was amongst the top ten.

But, is this true?

Does it really matter how many hours of sleep we get? 

Is quality or duration of sleep more important?

And, can age affect how much sleep is optimal for our health?

We’ll be discussing all these questions and getting to the bottom of the idea that we need 8 hours of sleep every night to be at our best!

Quality or Duration?

First, we should understand the difference between sleep quality and duration.

Whether you’ve had nights of tossing and turning or nights where you’re waking up often. Not all of our time spent trying to sleep is of good quality. 

According to the nationwide research team - assessing sleep is better done using quality of sleep as a measurement rather than using the duration.

But, what does quality sleep even mean?

How can we measure the quality of our sleep?

The national sleep foundation states that there are generally 4 aspects used to measure the quality of sleep:

  1. Wakefulness: which is the amount of time you spend awake after first falling asleep 
  2. Sleep latency: this refers to the amount of time it takes you to fall asleep
  3. Sleep efficiency: the time you spend sleeping while lying in bed
  4. Sleep waking: how many times you wake up during your sleep

Becoming aware of all four parts of your sleep quality will allow you to better measure if you’re having a good sleep.

Do you wake up in the middle of the night?

Do you have trouble falling asleep?

These are all questions we should be asking ourselves when trying to figure out how much sleep we really need.

But, how come?

Why does it matter?

8 hours of quality sleep is much different from 8 hours of poor quality of sleep. 

In fact, you feel the difference the day after.

Those days when we wake up feeling energized and satisfied with our sleep are generally days we can say we had a good quality sleep.

Right?

This brings up the point that when we refer to the hours of sleep we get a night, we’re referencing good quality sleep, not poor quality sleep.

But, the question still remains - how much sleep do we really need?

Does age play a role?

I’m sure we can all agree that age plays a role in the amount of sleep that’s necessary for optimal health.

When we were infants if we weren't crying or eating we were sleeping, and during our teenage years sleeping in felt like the greatest thing ever!

During infancy, the recommended number of sleep is as much as 16 hours a day! But, as we grow up the recommended time spent sleeping begins to lessen and lessen. 

  1. From the ages of 3-5, it’s recommended we sleep 10-13 hours a day
  2. From the ages of 6-12, it’s recommended we sleep 9-12 hours a day
  3. From the ages of 13-18, it’s recommended we sleep 8-10 hours a day
  4. Then, from adulthood onward, it’s recommended we sleep 7 or more hours a day

Other than age, there are other factors that can affect our sleep patterns.

How much sleep we need can also be affected by things like:

  1. Pregnancy
  2. Sleep quality 
  3. Physical activity
  4. Reaching older age
  5. Previous sleep deprivation

Some of these factors may cause us to have a poor night's rest, making us fall behind in our sleep. Think of it like sleep debt. Sleep debt accumulates when we sleep fewer hours than our body needs. 

For example, your body may need 7 hours of sleep, but when you only sleep for 5 you create 2 hours of sleep debt.

This is why some people decide to nap, go to bed earlier some nights, or even sleep in on the weekends! 

These approaches may provide temporary recovery and energy. But, research suggests that 1 hour of sleep debt takes a total of 4 days to recover to your optimal level. 

This means it’s better in the long term for you to do your best to maintain a sleep schedule that fits your lifestyle. 

The general guidelines provided by the NIH say from 18 years old and onward we should be getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night.

The Bottom Line - How much sleep do we really need?

We know that not all hours of sleep are created equal. There’s a difference between poor quality and high-quality sleep. 

And, we know we can create a certain sleep debt in our lives causing us to fall behind.

This makes us more tired throughout the day, and we often try to catch up on sleep through different methods.

The general consensus for adults 18 years and older is that we should be trying to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Which is about 49-64 hours of sleep a week!

But, we know this isn’t always possible. Life can sometimes cause interruptions in getting that amount of sleep.

You should be doing your best to sleep 7-8 hours, but don’t beat yourself up if you can’t always do that. If you can’t sleep 7-8 hours a night, do your best to catch up on it, and try to start maintaining a consistent sleep schedule so you can prevent sleep debt!

Getting 8 hours of sleep each night is just one of the top ten health myths and practices our members said they believed in.

We’re just getting started with our health myth debunking series.

Stay tuned for upcoming blog posts where we're going to talk about more common health myths and if they’re even true!