What Time Should You Go to Sleep Based on Your Age?

The average amount of sleep (called sleep needs) required for an individual fluctuates over their lifetime. Sleep needs are heavily based on age. In order to meet specific sleep needs, what is an appropriate time to go to sleep in order to meet the targeted number of hours for adequate rest?

Let’s explore how much sleep is needed based on age, suggested bedtimes, what may be causing difficulty in meeting bedtimes, and tips on falling asleep. 

How Much Sleep You Need

When considering reasonable bedtimes for an individual, the amount of sleep required to wake up feeling refreshed, or the sleep need, is taken into account. Sleep needs are often determined by age, although a person’s genetics and environment, medical, and behavioral conditions can affect their need.

Researchers recommend that adults obtain between 7 to 9 hours of sleep, or an average of 8 hours, for optimal health.

Uncommonly, adults may fall into two categories: short sleepers and long sleepers. A short sleeper can be alright with getting less than the average recommended hours of sleep (less than seven hours). Long sleepers need more than the average recommended hours of sleep, or above nine hours, in order to feel well rested.

For young adults and people recovering from sleep debt, sleeping more than nine hours a night might be beneficial. Sleep deprivation, or not getting sufficient sleep, is associated with various negative health outcomes including depression, heart disease, obesity, and weight gain.

Children require more sleep than adults to feel adequately rested. Through childhood and over the lifespan, the average amount of sleep required changes. For example:

  • Infants (four to 12 months old) should average 12 to 16 hours of sleep, including naps
  • Toddlers (12 to 35 months old) should average 11 to 14 hours of sleep, including naps
  • Preschool children (three to five years old) should average 10 to 13 hours of sleep, possibly including naps
  • School-age children (six to 12 years old) should average nine to 12 hours of sleep
  • Teenagers (13 to 18 years old) should average eight to 10 hours of sleep
  • Adults (18 to 60 years old) should average between seven to nine hours of sleep
  • Elderly adults (more than 60 years old) may average seven to eight hours of sleep

Setting a Bedtime

Generally, setting a bedtime can be done by using the average number of hours of sleep needed to meet sleep needs and counting backward from the desired wake time.

For instance, if assuming that the desired wake time is between 7:00 and 8:00 am:

  • Infants may be put to bed when sleepy, between about 7 and 8 pm
  • Toddlers may be put to bed between 7 and 9 pm
  • Preschool children may be put to bed 8 and 9 pm

Considering that wake times shift because of school or work schedules, and the time needed to get ready for the day, wake time may be closer to 5 to 7 am:

  • School-age children should go to bed between 8 and 9 pm
  • Teenagers, for adequate sleep, should consider going to bed between 9 and 10 pm
  • Adults should try to go to sleep between 10 and 11 pm

With fluctuating schedules, wake times, and even sleep needs, these bedtimes are not set for everyone. 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 to occasionally experience some difficulty in meeting bedtimes or falling asleep. If trouble falling asleep becomes a pattern, you could possibly be dealing with insomnia.

Children having difficulty falling asleep may be experiencing behavioral insomnia. There are two types of behavioral insomnia: sleep-onset and limit-setting. Sleep-onset insomnia is exacerbated by the presence of a parent when the child is falling asleep, but the absence after waking. Like insomnia in adults, trouble falling asleep can be influenced by the sleep environment.

The presence of a parent while the child is falling asleep, especially for soothing activities like rocking and singing, can become a part of the child’s conditioned sleep environment. The best way to address sleep-onset insomnia is to have the parent break the association of this presence. Varying soothing techniques, allowing the child to self-soothe after waking in the night, or even letting the child “cry it out” can be effective techniques to break this behavior.

Limit-setting insomnia, or bedtime resistance, occurs when parents lose control of their child’s behavior before bedtime due to a lack of parent-enforced boundaries around sleep and wake times. Regaining control and resetting boundaries is the best way to relieve limit-setting insomnia. By enforcing a consistent bedtime, refusing unreasonable demands before sleep, and scheduling a quiet activity 20 to 30 minutes before sleep, boundaries can be set and children can obtain the proper amount of sleep they require.

For adults, there are various subtypes of insomnia that work differently in making falling asleep difficult.

Insomnia can cause symptoms like fatigue and daytime sleepiness, poor attention and concentration, reduced energy and motivation, and even increased suicide risk.

Insomnia can be due to an individual’s genetics or can be related to various sleep disorders, like sleep apnea, or psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression. Luckily, there are various routes to treat insomnia in adults. Sleeping pills can be useful as a temporary solution, and if you desire to avoid medications, cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBTI) could be a good option.      

Tips and Tricks

Falling asleep and meeting a bedtime can be done effectively when implementing the following tips.

A Good Sleep Environment

Your bedroom is very influential in optimizing your sleep and ability to fall asleep. For a good sleep environment, a generally quiet surrounding is beneficial. A cool and dark room is recommended, although this can be adjusted based on personal preference. Making sure you are comfortable, like ensuring you have a comfy mattress and bedding, and ridding the space of stressors will help in falling asleep.

A Nighttime Routine

Having a consistent bedtime routine and implementing relaxation techniques can also be helpful in initiating your desire to fall asleep at the appropriate time. A night routine prepares your mind and body for sleep, helping you begin the process of unwinding and relaxing before full rest. Some activities that could be done during your night routine are reading, listening to music, stretching, or taking a bath.

It is best to avoid over-stimulating activities before bed, like watching television or participating in aerobic exercise. Cell phones and electronics should be avoided as much as possible. The artificial light from the screen can contribute to shifting sleep timing and make it difficult to fall asleep.

Good Sleep Hygiene

Maintaining good sleep hygiene, which includes habits surrounding sleep during the day and before bed, can help in meeting your bedtime goal. Avoiding naps during the day is a helpful part of maintaining good sleep hygiene. Naps decrease overall sleep debt, which will reduce the drive to go to sleep.

Avoid spending time in bed awake or doing activities in bed like reading or watching television for good sleep hygiene. As much as possible, try to avoid associating your bed and sleep environment with wakefulness. Lastly, having a consistent wake time and, of course, a consistent bedtime, can help in falling asleep.

A Word From Verywell

The amount of sleep we need changes with our age. Determining this is helpful in setting appropriate bedtimes and wake times. By staying consistent with bedtimes and wake times, maintaining a good sleep environment, sticking to a nighttime routine, and having good sleep hygiene, you can effectively obtain the sleep you need to remain healthy and well-rested.

If you are interested in discovering more about optimal bedtimes according to your age and sleep needs, consult a board-certified sleep medicine physician.

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