Should adults get 7 or 8 hours of sleep?

Getting adequate sleep is extremely important for overall health and wellbeing. The recommended amount of sleep for healthy adults is typically 7 to 9 hours per night. However, many people struggle to get enough high-quality sleep on a regular basis. An ongoing debate exists over whether the ideal sleep duration for most adults is 7 hours or 8 hours.

How much sleep do adults need?

The National Sleep Foundation recommends that healthy adults age 26-64 should sleep 7-9 hours per night. The specific recommendation is 7-8 hours of sleep per night for this age group. Older adults over age 65 may need 7-8 hours of sleep as well, while younger adults age 18-25 may need slightly more sleep at 7-9 hours per night.

Here is a breakdown of the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations for nightly sleep by age:

Age Recommended Hours of Sleep Per Night
Newborns (0-3 months) 14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months) 12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years) 11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years) 10-13 hours
School age (6-13 years) 9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years) 8-10 hours
Young adults (18-25 years) 7-9 hours
Adults (26-64 years) 7-9 hours
Older Adults (65+ years) 7-8 hours

As the table shows, 7-8 hours per night is considered the standard recommendation for most adults under age 65. However, some flexibility exists within the recommended range. Some adults feel their best with 7 hours of sleep, while others prefer 8 hours or more. The exact sleep needs can vary from person to person.

The benefits of 7 hours of sleep

Getting 7 hours of quality sleep per night comes with many health benefits. Research has linked 7 hours of nightly sleep to:

  • Improved cognitive function and concentration
  • Better mood and lower risk of depression
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Lower risk of weight gain and obesity
  • Lower risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Increased longevity

Adults who regularly sleep 7 hours per night have been shown to perform better on cognitive and performance tasks compared to those who sleep fewer hours. A 7-hour sleep schedule may optimize the sleep-wake cycle in a way that promotes mental acuity and focus throughout the day.

In terms of health, multiple studies link 7 hours of sleep to lower risks for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Researchers believe quality sleep strengthens the immune system and metabolic processes that protect long-term health.

Downsides of 7 hours of sleep

While 7 hours is generally enough for most adults, there are some potential downsides to consider:

  • May not be enough sleep for some people, leading to sleep deprivation
  • Could impair performance in those who require more sleep
  • May increase risks if the sleep is fragmented or low quality
  • Allows less time for REM and deep sleep stages

Even if you are targeting 7 hours in bed, you may not actually sleep for a full 7 hours. Time to fall asleep, restlessness, and nighttime awakenings can reduce total sleep time. If your sleep is disrupted or inconsistent, 7 hours may end up being insufficient.

Sleep needs also vary significantly by individual. For example, people with health issues or insomnia may need 8 hours or more per night. Elite athletes may require 9 or more hours to recover from training demands. Children and teenagers need more sleep as well.

The benefits of 8 hours of sleep

Is 8 hours the new sleep goal adults should aim for? Potential benefits of getting 8 hours of sleep each night include:

  • Better learning, memory, and creativity
  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • Lower inflammation
  • Decreased risk for diabetes and obesity
  • Higher immune function
  • Reduced pain
  • Increased athletic performance

Research suggests that 8 hours of consistent, high-quality sleep can enhance cognitive skills like focus, learning, and memory. The extra hour may also allow more time for critical sleep phases and cycles to complete.

In one study, individuals who slept 8 hours per night for two weeks decreased their body fat, improved insulin sensitivity, and balanced hormones compared to those who slept just 5 hours.

Athletic performance may also benefit from 8 hours of sleep. Naps and extra sleep allow muscles, hormones, and the nervous system to rest and rebuild following intense training.

Downsides of 8 hours of sleep

Potential downsides to aiming for 8 hours of sleep include:

  • Difficulty fitting into busy schedules
  • Increased sleep latency and restlessness
  • Possible grogginess or sleep inertia upon waking
  • May be too much sleep for some people
  • Decreased waking time for work, family, exercise, etc.

While 8 hours is beneficial for some, it may be unrealistic or excessive for others. Some adults simply feel better with slightly less sleep. Requiring yourself to sleep 8 hours can also induce stress and anxiety which may further interfere with sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping 8 continuous hours, it may result in tossing and turning as you try to fill the extra time. Sleeping too long can sometimes leave people feeling sluggish, as increased sleep inertia after waking.

Key factors in determining individual sleep needs

Rather than focusing on a prescribed sleep duration, it may be more helpful to understand the key factors that influence your own ideal sleep amount:

  • Age – Older adults need slightly less sleep than younger people.
  • Fitness level – Active individuals and athletes may benefit from extra sleep.
  • Overall health – Medical conditions and mental health impact sleep needs.
  • Medications – Some prescriptions and supplements affect sleep duration.
  • Genetics – Some genes impact the body’s regulation of sleep.
  • Circadian rhythms – Being a “night owl” or “early bird” influences optimal timing.
  • Sleep environment – Dark, quiet, and cool rooms support quality sleep.
  • Daily habits – Caffeine, alcohol, stress and technology use affect sleep needs.

Paying attention to individual factors, sleep cycles, and sleep quality provides more meaningful guidance than a rigid sleep duration goal. Undersleeping or oversleeping on a chronic basis can each be detrimental.

Optimizing sleep quality

Rather than obsessing over getting exactly 7 or 8 hours, focus more on sleep consistency and following healthy sleep habits. Some tips for optimizing sleep quality include:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same times daily.
  • Develop a relaxing pre-bed routine.
  • Limit caffeine, alcohol, and big meals before bedtime.
  • Make your bedroom comfortable, dark, and technology-free.
  • Manage stress through meditation, journaling, yoga, etc.
  • Get regular exercise, but not too close to bedtime.
  • Expose yourself to bright light in the mornings.
  • Nap strategically, but limit excessive daytime sleeping.

Focusing on sleep consistency over quantity, and optimizing conditions for restful sleep, can help ensure you wake up feeling well-rested. Pay attention to how you feel in the mornings and throughout the day, rather than solely counting sleep hours. If you feel wide awake and productive most days, your sleep routine is likely working well for your needs.

The risks of insufficient or fragmented sleep

While 6 or 7 hours of sleep may be adequate for some people, regularly getting fewer than 7 hours has been linked to negative outcomes. Potential risks of insufficient sleep include:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety
  • Impaired memory and learning
  • Accidents and injuries
  • Premature death

Short sleeping is associated with decreased insulin sensitivity, increased inflammation, higher stress hormones, and a craving for calorie-dense foods. Even a single night of inadequate rest can temporarily alter hormone levels and appetite.

Interrupted or fragmented sleep may be equally or more detrimental than reduced total sleep. Having difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings, low deep sleep, and early wakings without being able to fall back asleep all reduce sleep quality. Targeting 8 hours will not necessarily counteract the effects of poor quality sleep.

Signs you may need more than 7 hours of sleep

Some signs indicating you are not getting enough quality sleep include:

  • Feeling tired and low energy even with 7 hours in bed
  • Having difficulty concentrating during the day
  • Relying on naps, caffeine, or sugar to get through the day
  • Struggling with workouts or athletic performance
  • Mood changes like irritability, anxiety, and depression
  • Catching every cold and illness going around
  • Gaining weight without eating more
  • Increased clumsiness and difficulty with coordination
  • Strong cravings for carbs and sugary foods

Pay attention to how you feel overall, not just your total sleep time. Feeling sluggish and run down during all waking hours is a red flag. If you have symptoms like this regularly, try extending your sleep duration.

When to seek medical advice

It is normal to occasionally get less sleep than desired. But if insufficient or poor-quality sleep becomes the norm, consult your doctor or a sleep specialist. They can identify if you have a sleep disorder or other medical issue impacting your rest.

See a professional if you regularly:

  • Have difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Rely on sleeping pills to sleep
  • Snore loudly or pause breathing at night
  • Feel unrested after a full night in bed
  • Fall asleep unintentionally during the day
  • Have constant exhaustion or brain fog

A sleep study, also known as a polysomnogram, can help diagnose conditions like sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, and circadian rhythm disorders. Based on test results, your doctor can recommend tailored treatments to improve sleep.

Setting a sustainable and realistic sleep goal

Rather than forcing yourself to sleep 7 or 8 hours, consider setting a sleep goal based on your personal needs and sleep quality. Follow these tips for setting a sustainable goal:

  • Go to bed when you feel naturally drowsy in the evenings, not by a set clock time.
  • Don’t rely heavily on an alarm to wake up; allow your body to wake more naturally based on its own rhythms.
  • Assess how you feel during the day – tired, wide awake, focused, moody?
  • Track your sleep over a period of 2 weeks using a sleep diary or app.
  • Aim for a wake-up time that gives you sufficient alertness for your schedule without needing an excessive alarm.
  • Adjust your target bedtime gradually 15-30 minutes at a time to find your optimal balance.
  • Remember sleep needs can vary day-to-day and season-to-season.

Consider your sleep goals an experiment, not a rigid target. Adapt to changes in sleep needs over time. Avoid extremes of undersleeping or oversleeping whenever possible.


Most healthy adults need 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep per night. While some do well with just 7 hours, others feel their best with 8 or more hours in bed. Rather than fixating on a specific number, pay more attention to sleep cycles, sleep stages, and how rested you feel during the day.

Aim to optimize your sleep consistency through healthy sleep hygiene habits. Prioritize feeling rested when you wake up naturally in the mornings. Be willing to adapt your target sleep duration as needed over time. Discuss significant, ongoing sleep problems with your doctor.

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