How much sleep do I need? How can I get the best quality sleep? And what should I do if my sleep quality is poor? These are all questions anyone who wants to boost their health should be asking.
Sleep is essential for good health but we sometimes underestimate its importance. We focus on wellness during our waking hours, but the best self-care can be a good night's rest. Sleep is the body’s time to heal and repair—a night of uninterrupted sleep can be more restorative than a long bath or pampering beauty treatment. A lack of sleep will accelerate aging and make your mood plummet, not to mention more serious health issues. "Chronic exposure to poor sleep quality is associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions. Not to mention a weaker immune system, an increased risk of weight gain, and poorer balance and coordination skills," says Dr Ferhat Uddin, a GP and menopause expert.
But there’s far more to good sleep hygiene than going to bed early and using the best pillows and best mattress, although this can certainly help (and if you want to save on w&h's best mattress pick, the Emma Original Mattress, keep an eye on their Emma mattress sales that take place throughout the year or look out for Simba mattress sales too). A good bedtime routine is just like any other routine—say a gym routine or skincare routine— as it's all about developing good habits. There are hundreds of factors that affect the length and quality of our sleep so we asked the experts how long women of all ages should be sleeping for, and how our lifestyles, hormones, and healthier habits can affect our sleep cycles.
How much sleep do I need as a woman?
Scientific evidence suggests that women need more sleep than men. But that's not just due to fluctuations in hormones we experience as we age, it's also to do with our brains. Research from Sleep Research Center director, Jim Horne, found women need more sleep as they use their brains more than men on a daily basis, largely due to our ability to multitask. "Women have brains which are wired differently than men. They need to get more sleep as they are more likely to be multitasking. They do a lot of things at once and will use more of their brain than a man will,” claims Professor Horne.
Despite women needing more sleep, it doesn't always mean we get it. It's no surprise that Arianna Huffington has called sleep "the next feminist issue". Rosie Osmun, a certified sleep coach at Eachnight, explains that women are more likely than men to suffer disturbed sleep patterns throughout their lifetimes. "Women are more likely than men to experience insomnia and potential underlying conditions, such as depression linked to variations in reproductive hormones," she explained.
And while both men and women suffer cognitive effects from sleep deprivation, how it manifests can depend on gender. Some research, such as a 2015 study with teenagers, has observed that sleep-deprived girls and women tend to do more poorly on cognition tests than boys and men. The evidence is clear that women, in particular, need a good night's rest, but how many hours' sleep we need specifically each night varies as we age.
How much sleep do I need according to my age?
How much sleep you need—and how well you sleep—is affected by how old you are, particularly for women. “As we age our circadian rhythms alter, so sleep patterns can shift,” says Dr Uddin, who founded Liberty Health Clinics, which specializes in the lifestyles and care of menopausal women.
The amount of recommended sleep we need each night declines sharply as we enter adulthood and then at a slower rate throughout our lives, according to research from The National Sleep Foundation.
Recommended sleep according to age
Newborn to 3 months old | 14–17 hours (may need 11–19 hrs)
4 to 11 months old | 12-15 hours (may need 10–18 hours)
1 to 2 years old | 11-14 hours (may need 9–16 hours)
3 to 5 years old | 10-13 hours (may need 8–14 hours)
6 to 13 years old | 9-11 hours (may need 7–12 hours)
14 to 17 years old | 8-10 hours (may need 7–11 hours)
18 to 25 years old | 7–9 hours (may need 6–11 hours)
26 to 64 years old | 7–9 hours (may need 6–10 hours)
65+ | 7–8 hours (may need 5–9 hours)
How much sleep do I need in my teens?
Recommended sleep for teenagers: 8-10 hours (may need 7-11 hours)
During the developmental years, sleep is crucial for the body, and a minimum of eight hours a night is recommended.
How sleep changes in our teens
With the quality of women's sleep changing with the onset of menstruation, it's possible that women in their teens may need even more sleep than the usual eight to 10 hours. “Women report more sleeping difficulties than men and are at a greater risk of developing insomnia across their lifespan. This increased risk starts when women first start menstruating,” explains Dr Lindsay Browning, a chartered psychologist, neuroscientist, and sleep expert. "Biological differences do explain some of the sleep differences between women and men. These differences emerge in puberty and persist at other major hormonal transitions in a woman's life, such as menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause," says Dr Amina Ahmed, an NHS doctor who specializes in women's sleep.
"During menstruation, one-third of women experience cramps, headaches, and bloating that cause sleep disturbances. The total sleep time stays roughly the same throughout the cycle. Interestingly, women are most likely to report lower sleep quality in the week before their period, when those with severe PMS will also report disturbing dreams, sleepiness, fatigue, and trouble concentrating," Dr Ahmed adds.
How much sleep do I need aged 18-25?
Recommended sleep for adults aged 18 to 25: 7-9 hours (may need 6–11 hours)
Seven to nine hours is the recommended amount of sleep for young women, but hormonal changes can affect sleep considerably during this period.
How sleep changes as a young adult
Between menstrual cycles, pregnancy, postpartum, and conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), adult women’s hormone levels are in a constant state of change and therefore directly affect and intersect with melatonin (the sleep hormone), and cortisol (the stress hormone). Women with PCOS are also at an increased risk of sleep-disordered breathing, meaning sleep quality can be impaired by breathing problems during sleep.
In addition to hormonal changes and physical changes, when we're worried or stressed we tend to struggle to sleep. Stress levels are particularly high in women in their 20s, with millennial women reported as the most stressed group in society. Stress can not only cause disrupted sleep but can make it feel impossible to settle in the first place. Sanity&Self reported millennial women were more likely to experience insomnia multiple times a week than any other group. And, 40% of millennial women experience insomnia two-four nights per week due to stress, compared to 28% of men.
How much sleep do I need aged 26-64?
Recommended sleep for adults aged 26-64: 7-9 hours (may need 6–10 hours)
Studies suggest the total sleep time needed by women drops by 10 minutes for every 10 years of age meaning in theory we should require less sleep every decade—however, it's not always as simple as that with hormonal and lifestyle changes to content with.
How sleep changes as an adult
There are many external factors that affect our sleep quality and total sleep time as we age. Fluctuating hormones as we approach perimenopause and menopause and high-stress levels spurred on by balancing a busy work and home life can affect sleep negatively. Conditions that we often see in later life like heartburn, asthma, gut issues, and diabetes can all be responsible for poor sleep as we age, too.
Perimenopause, the stage prior to menopause, affects women's sleep considerably, meaning you may get less—and less high-quality—sleep. This is because hormone levels in the body, particularly FSH the follicle-stimulating hormone, and LH the luteinizing hormone, will begin to fluctuate. Perimenopause often starts to affect women in their late 40s and early 50s but it's important to note in some cases, perimenopause can begin as early as 20 or as late as 60. Symptoms like headaches, irregular periods, and joint pain such as lower back pain may begin to disrupt your sleep as perimenopause kicks in, meaning a few lie-ins—or some afternoon naps—may be needed.
Once menopause arrives, women may experience sleep interruptions due to hot flashes or the onset of sleep apnea. “Often, these sleep problems can last long after the menopausal symptoms have gone, as women can start to get so stressed and anxious about not sleeping, that the stress about sleep itself causes insomnia to continue,” says Dr Browning. “Not only do hot flashes physically disrupt sleep, but also cause women to experience mood problems as they approach menopause.”
How much sleep do I need aged 65+?
Recommended sleep for adults aged 65+: 7–8 hours (may need 5–9 hours)
How sleep changes aged 65+
In later life, women may find they feel tired earlier than before and are also likely to experience fewer sleep disturbances in the years following menopause. "As we hit retirement age, our circadian rhythms can start to change and we can start to produce melatonin (the hormone that tells our bodies it's time for sleep) earlier in the evening," adds Dr Browning. This tends to make older people want to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier in the morning.
8 expert-approved tips for better rest
Want to know how to sleep better? We asked the experts for sleep advice to bring you their top eight tips.
- Track your sleep—use one of the best sleep apps for a few weeks to discover any patterns that could be wreaking havoc with your sleep.
- Establish a bedtime—once you've gathered all your sleep data using an app, establish a bedtime and waketime that best suits your sleep needs and stick to it. Continue to track your sleep to discover the effects.
- Create a bedtime—whether you listen to sleep-guided meditations or practice bedtime yoga, creating a bedtime routine full of relaxing activities you enjoy will get your body and mind ready for sleep.
- Practice good sleep hygiene—create a peaceful sleep environment with blackout curtains, comfortable bedding, and a room temperature of 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Avoid screens before bed—research shows the blue light emitted from devices like phones prevents the body from producing melatonin and therefore delaying sleep. So, make your room a screen-free zone and avoid electronics for at least an hour before bed.
- Eat well—opt for complex carbohydrates and protein-rich meals, and eat at least three hours before bedtime to allow your meal to digest. Set caffeine and sugar cut-off points earlier in the day and instead enjoy a cup of sleep tea.
- Get outside—fresh air and natural light first thing in the morning resets your circadian rhythm (aka the body's sleep-wake cycle) which is essential in ensuring you produce the sleep hormone melatonin later in the day.
- Exercise—being active can give your sleep health a serious boost and encourage your body to transition into rest and repair mode faster. Doing high-intensity exercise once a day for at least seven minutes has been proven to help with heart health and sleep quality. If this is too intense for you, try something like Pilates for beginners or yoga for beginners.
Emilie Lavinia is a writer, entrepreneur and women’s wellbeing advocate. She is passionate about femtech, closing the gender health gap and campaigning for education and transparency across mental, physical and sexual health.
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