The amount of sleep you need each night changes over the course of your life. In fact, your sleep needs are closely connected to your age.
This article explores how much sleep you need and what your target bedtimes should be at every age. It also discusses some common problems that keep people from getting to bed on time and falling asleep easily.
What time to go to sleep
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
How Much Sleep You Need
To decide what your bedtime should be, it’s important to think about how much sleep it takes to leave you feeling refreshed. That’s called your sleep need.
Some experts calculate your sleep need according to your age. Your genes, environment, and health conditions can also affect how much sleep you need.
Sleep experts say adults should get seven to nine hours of sleep, or an average of eight hours, to optimize their health.1
Some people are short sleepers or long sleepers. A short sleeper may be just fine with less than seven hours of sleep. Long sleepers need more than nine hours to feel well-rested.2
Children need more sleep than adults to feel adequately rested.3 For young adults and people recovering from sleep debt, sleeping more than nine hours a night might be helpful.
Sleep deprivation, or not getting enough sleep, is associated with depression, heart disease, obesity, weight gain, and other health issues.
Recommendations by Age
The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following:4
Newborns (0 to 3 months): Should average 14 to 17 hours of sleep a day, including naps.
Infants (4 to 11 months): Should average 12 to 15 hours of sleep per day, including naps.
Toddlers (12 to 35 months): Should average 11 to 14 hours, including naps.
Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): Should average 10 to 13 hours per day.
School-age children (6 to 13 years): Should average nine to 11 hours per day.
Teenagers (14 to 17 years): Should average eight to 10 hours per day.
Younger adults (18 to 25 years old): Should average seven to nine hours per day.
Adults (26 to 64): Should average seven to nine hours per day.
Older adults (age 65 and over): Should average seven to nine hours per day.
Setting a Bedtime
To set a target bedtime, decide when you need to wake up. Then count backwards the number of hours of sleep you need.
For instance, if the desired wake-up time is between 7:00 and 8:00 a.m.:
Infants may be put to bed when sleepy, between about 7:00 and 8:00 p.m.
Toddlers may be put to bed between 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.
Preschool children may be put to bed 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.
If your school or work schedule requires you to be up between 5:00 and 7:00 a.m., these are the suggested bedtimes:
School-age children should go to bed between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m.
Teens should try to go to bed between 9:00 and 10:00 p.m.
Adults should try to go to sleep between 10:00 and 11:00 p.m.
Schedules, wake times, and even sleep needs can shift, so it helps to remain flexible. What one person needs may not be the same as someone else, even if their circumstances are similar. Individual needs vary.
Despite age and sleep need, having a consistent wake time, even on the weekends, is important for better sleep.
Difficulties Meeting Bedtime
It is normal not to meet your target bedtime or not to fall right to sleep from time to time. If trouble falling asleep becomes a pattern, you could be dealing with insomnia.
Insomnia in Children
Children who have a hard time falling asleep may be experiencing behavioral insomnia. There are two types of behavioral insomnia—sleep-onset and limit-setting. Some children may have both types.
Sleep-onset Insomnia in Children
Sleep-onset insomnia usually means a child has become dependent on certain soothing routines or objects and “needs” them to fall asleep. They may also need these routines if they wake in the middle of the night.
One way to help your child with sleep-onset insomnia is to build your child’s ability to self-soothe. Some experts say you could try letting your child “cry it out.” There are two ways to do this. One way is to put your child to bed and ignore your child’s cries until morning. (It’s okay to check on their well-being.)
The other way is to gradually increase the intervals when you comfort your child. For example, parents can comfort a crying child every five minutes, then gradually extend the period to ten minutes, then fifteen, and so on.5
It’s important to note that experts don’t all agree about the best way to help a child fall asleep independently. Some evidence shows that when children “cry it out,” the stress hormone cortisol goes up and stays up in their bodies days afterward. Some parents also find the “cry it out” technique too stressful.
At least one study showed that, five years after the “cry it out” phase, there were no differences in sleep measures between children whose parents let them “cry it out” and those who didn’t.6
Limit-setting Insomnia in Children
Limit-setting insomnia most commonly happens when a caregiver doesn’t set consistent bedtime rules and keep a regular bedtime. The problem can get worse if the child begins to oppose or fight against bedtime routines.
Resetting boundaries is the best way to help limit-setting insomnia. It can be a good idea to follow strategies like these:
Set and keep a consistent bedtime
Patiently say no to unreasonable demands before sleep
Schedule a quiet activity 20 to 30 minutes before sleep
Teens and Sleep
About 75% of teens don’t get enough sleep. Early school start times, late night social activities, digital device use, and sleep cycle shifts all play a role.7 Neighborhoods where there are not enough trees and too much noise can also delay sleep, researchers have found.8
Insomnia in Adults
For adults, insomnia can be due to your genetics. It can also be related to sleep disorders like sleep apnea or to psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Insomnia can cause fatigue, daytime sleepiness, poor attention and concentration, low energy and motivation, and even increased suicide risk.
The good news is that there are several ways to treat insomnia in adults. Medications can be useful as a temporary solution. If you want to avoid medications, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) is an effective option.9
Older Adults and Sleep
Insomnia can become more of a problem as you age. The National Institutes on Aging reports that menopause, restless leg syndrome, dementia, and sleep apnea can all keep you awake or disrupt your sleep after age 60.10 If you think a health condition may be keeping you up, talk to a healthcare professional or sleep specialist.
Tips and Tricks
You can make it easier to go to bed and fall asleep on time. Here are some strategies that may help.
A Good Sleep Environment
Your bedroom can help you fall asleep and sleep more soundly. For most people, it’s a good idea to start with a quiet, cool, and dark room. You should also consider whether your mattress and bedding are hurting or helping your quest for a steady bedtime.
If your work space is in your bedroom, try to minimize any visual stressors.
A Nighttime Routine
Consistent bedtime routines and relaxation techniques can also be helpful. A night routine prepares your mind and body for sleep, helping you unwind before you rest.
Some people have had success with reading, listening to music, stretching, or taking a bath. It is best to avoid over-stimulating activities before bed, like watching television or exercising.
Cell phones and electronics should be avoided as much as possible. The artificial light from the screen can shift your sleep timing and make it harder to fall asleep.
Good Sleep Hygiene
Good sleep hygiene starts during the day.11 Avoid daytime naps. They reduce your overall sleep debt, but they also reduce the drive to go to sleep.
You can also spend time outdoors, in sunlight, if possible. Studies show outside light exposure during the day can prevent a delay in falling asleep. Of course, there’s such a thing as too much daylight exposure. This is especially true in Arctic regions where it’s light at night during summer.12
It’s a good idea to limit caffeine and alcohol, both of which can disrupt sleep.
Once you’re in bed, limit brain-stimulating activities as much as possible. You want to associate your bed with sleep, not wakefulness. You’re trying to train your body that bed means sleep.
Just as your dietary needs change at different ages, your need for sleep changes throughout your life. The need for sleep is greatest for babies and young children. Teens need extra sleep, too. Most adults need seven to nine hours daily.
If you’re not getting the recommended amount of sleep for your age, you may want to build a better set of sleep habits to make it easier to meet a target bedtime. Short term sleep aids might help, but if you think you might have insomnia, talk to a healthcare provider. It’s important for your overall health.