Sleep is glorious and many of us feel like we aren’t getting enough of it.
Well, now you have a chart to consult! Just turn to the National Sleep Foundation’s newly released set of recommendations for various points of life, sleep-duration numbers that were developed after an extensive review of past scientific literature and input from a variety medical professionals. The recommendations for age categories from newborns to older adults were published this week in the foundation’s journal Sleep Health.
Here are their recommended sleep times:
- Zero to three months of age: 14 to 17 hours
- Four to 11 months of age: 12 to 15 hours
- One to two years of age: 11 to 14 hours
- Three to five years of age: 10 to 13 hours
- Six to 13 years of age: nine to 11 hours
- 14 to 17 years of age: eight to 10 hours
- 18 to 25 years of age: seven to nine hours
- 26 to 64 years of age: seven to nine hours
- 65 and older: seven to eight hours
By comparison, the National Institutes of Health recommends that newborns sleep 16 to 18 hours; preschoolers sleep 11 to 12 hours; school-aged children sleep at least 10 hours; teenagers sleep nine to 10 hours; and adults, including the elderly, sleep seven to eight hours.
“Sleeping too little and too much are both associated with increased risk of mortality and a range of other adverse health issues: cardiovascular disease, possibly cancer and also impaired psychological well-being,” said Lauren Hale, editor of the journal Sleep Health and associate professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University.
The National Sleep Foundation convened an 18-member panel of sleep experts and people representing 12 different professional health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Geriatrics Society and the American Psychiatric Association.
This panel studied 312 peer-reviewed articles published between 2004 and 2014 that dealt with sleep duration and the effects of too little or too much sleep. Panel members met four times over a nine-month period and voted twice to come up with the recommended numbers.
The scope of the results and the methodology behind them make the recommendations a first, Hale said.
“The National Sleep Foundation felt it was the time and their role to assemble this panel, and they’ve been working on it for years,” Hale said. “There has been a shortage of scientific expert panels on the topic of sleep duration… We just know it’s one of the questions that people ask regularly. People type those questions into Google all the time, and there wasn’t a consensus.”
The foundation had previously posted recommendations on its Web site, but they were “a bit dated” and weren’t developed following the same kind of thorough literature review and input from various professional organizations as the new guidelines, a spokesperson said. In some cases, the previous recommendations included wider hour ranges or more narrow ones. And new categories were added for younger and older adults.
The new recommendations also include “may be appropriate” hour ranges, which can be seen below:
As for how much people are actually sleeping, the data are kind of all over the place. You could look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which says the average American over the age of 15 sleeps eight hours and 45 minutes. Or, you could turn to a 2013 Gallup poll in which the average American reported sleeping 6.8 hours nightly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called insufficient sleep a public health epidemic. And Hale, who focuses on teenagers, said most American teens are simply not sleeping enough on a whole.
Hale said that while every individual is a little different, the recommendations can provide guidance for parents and others in creating household environments conducive to children and adults alike getting enough sleep (think: electronics off and lights out). And if people are sleeping over the recommended range, this may be a signal of other health problems, such as depression.
“There are always exceptions, whether it’s a flight to catch, a test to take, things to do, and some days you need to sleep over the range because you are sick,” Hale said. “But, on a regular basis, you should try to aim for the recommended range.”
“When you get to be our age, you all of a sudden realize that you are being ruled by people you went to high school with,” noted the late novelist Kurt Vonnegut. “You all of a sudden catch on that life is nothing but high school.”
I thought of Vonnegut’s observation after I read a new study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research titled simply “Popularity.” Individuals’ social status in high school has a “sizable effect” on their earnings as adults, reported lead author Gabriella Conti of the University of Chicago: “We estimate that moving from the 20th to 80th percentile of the high-school popularity distribution yields a 10% wage premium nearly 40 years later.”
Conti’s study is part of a wave of research looking at how our social experiences in school connect to our lives after graduation. “We’ve all wondered at times if high school determines who we become as adults, and now we have the empirical data to test that notion,” says Pamela Herd, an associate professor of public affairs and sociology at the University ofWisconsin-Madison.
Herd is a co-director of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, one of the largest and longest-running investigations of how lives unfold in high school and beyond. The study, funded by the National Institute on Aging, has followed more than 10,000 members of Wisconsin’s 1957 graduating class for over 50 years, beginning when they were seniors and continuing throughout the decades as they established careers, raised families and began their lives as retirees and grandparents.
The Wisconsin program is the granddaddy of a generation of studies that are just now coming to fruition. They’re being joined by a slew of shorter-term studies conducted by psychologists, sociologists, economists and epidemiologists, researchers from varied fields who have all taken an interest in the high school years. “Social scientists are realizing that many of our adult outcomes can be traced back at least in part to our experiences in high school,” says Robert Crosnoe, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of Fitting In, Standing Out, a 2011 book that draws on his seven-year study of the adolescent social scene.
It’s not just the turbulent life stage of adolescence that has consequences for our later lives, Crosnoe stresses, but also the interactions of this developmental transition with the structures and hierarchies of high school. The institution has its origins in the secondary schools of the early 19th century, but it was only in the past 50 years or so — when high schools swelled as the children of the baby boom entered adolescence and youth culture took center stage — that our popular notion of high school took shape. Namely: high school as a formative life experience, as social as it is academic, in which students encounter a jostling bazaar of potential identities — from jock to prep to geek — and choose (or are assigned) one that will stay with them for years to come.
And yes, there’s some truth to the yearbook predictions, social scientists find. Broadly speaking, the brainy grinds and the glad-handing class officers achieve success as adults. The jocks are fitter and in better health. The outcasts and dropouts are more likely to be depressed and unemployed. The kids who drank and smoked pot under the bleachers are mostly still drinking and doping, sometimes to excess.
But it may be time for a re-evaluation of many of our notions about what matters in high school, say researchers who study adolescence and its aftermath, including popularity and friendship, intelligence and hard work. For example, “popularity is not all it’s cracked up to be,” says Kathleen Boykin McElhaney, a psychologist at the University of Virginia. Her study of 164 adolescents, published in the journal Child Development in 2008, found that teenagers who don’t belong to their schools’ “in” groups can still function well socially if they find a comfortable niche among their classmates. As long as they feel happy with themselves and their friends, it doesn’t matter how popular they are. “Our work shows that popularity isn’t all that important,” says McElhaney. “The key is finding a group of people with whom you can feel at ease being yourself.”
Indeed, recent research suggests that popularity isn’t entirely positive. Belonging to the cool crowd is associated with higher rates of drinking, drug use, sexual activity and minor delinquency during adolescence. And the connection between social status and risky behavior may be a lasting one: a 2008 study co-authored by Marlene J. Sandstrom, a professor of psychology at Williams College, reported that popularity in high school was associated with higher rates of substance abuse and sexual promiscuity in the three years after graduation.
What’s more, popular kids may not even be well liked. Researchers distinguish between two types of popularity: perceived popularity, or how socially prominent individuals are, and sociometric popularity, or how well liked they are. Membership in the two groups often doesn’t overlap. Sociometrically popular teens have a wide group of friends and are described by classmates as trustworthy and kind; perceived-popular students are admired and envied by their peers but are also regarded as arrogant and stuck-up. And no wonder: many studies have linked perceived popularity to high levels of what researchers call relational aggression: spreading gossip, engaging in taunting and bullying and practicing exclusion and the silent treatment in order to maintain one’s social position.
If the populars don’t have a lock on friendship, neither do the brains have an exclusive claim on post–high school success. In a recent study, Stephen D.H. Hsu and James Schombert, physics professors at the University of Oregon, analyzed undergraduates’ high school test scores and college grades. “Low SAT scores do not preclude high performance in most majors,” they reported. High-achieving students often succeed because of their dogged effort, they pointed out, rather than innate brilliance. “Our results suggest that almost any student admitted to university can achieve academic success, if they work hard enough,” the authors concluded.
Another study, by economists Jeffrey S. Zax and Daniel I. Rees of the University of Colorado, examined the connection between individuals’ IQ and academic performance, measured in the last year of high school, and how much money they were making in their mid-30s and early 50s. Using data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, they concluded that “previous analyses have overstated the role of intelligence in economic success.” Hard work and the development of capacities like conscientiousness and cooperation also matter for success, not to mention personal satisfaction and fulfillment. Coveted as they are in high school, brains and popularity get you only so far in the real world.
For some unhappy teens, life is bad in high school and threatens to stay that way if they don’t get help. For these students — the ones with drug and alcohol problems, the ones who are bullied and harassed, the ones who drop out of school altogether — intervention by adults is more important than ever, says Crosnoe. “Education is critical to making our way in today’s society, especially today’s economy, and kids who miss out on the full academic and social experience of high school will feel the effects of that lack reverberate through their lives for many years to come.”
For the rest of us, high school is one important experience among many — a lasting influence, but one that is hardly determinative. In the study by Zax and Rees, the authors ended on an unexpected note. “The most striking result,” they said, was how little they were able to make predictions about people’s adult lives on the basis of characteristics measured in adolescence. At least 75% of the variation seen among people in middle age couldn’t be foretold from what they were like in high school — meaning, they wrote, that “there is plenty of opportunity for individuals to rise above or fall below the level to which their endowments and environment might direct them.” So maybe life is more than just high school, after all.