The amount of sleep we get changes as we grow and is not fixed until we are adults. So 8 hours sleep is not "normal" for everyone. But if you know what to expect then you can identify problems and deal with them before they become chronic.

This flu season it is especially important that we and our children get enough sleep so that our immune systems stay strong. Along with dialing down stress, eating healthy, taking extra vitamin C and D and getting the flu shot (when appropriate), being well rested allows all these extra measures to have their desired effect. And, should you fall ill, your recovery time should be much faster if your immune system is not compromised.

Our sleep patterns are regulated by an internal sleep clock that cycles every 24 hours. Newborns usually sleep about 16 hours (hopefully) and that reduces to 14 hours by six months as they are able to hold more food and become more interested in the world around them. Mothers are very in tuned with their baby’s routine so if something changes dramatically it’s a sign to be more vigilant.

By age 2 children should be sleeping half the day – 12 hours. To help them make sure their bedrooms are cool (not cold) and can be darkened sufficiently to keep out the sun – especially in the summer – as sunlight is a wake up trigger.

By age 6, when children start school full time, their afternoon nap is eliminated. However, until the age of 13 they still need 11 hours of sleep and during their teen years 9 hours as their bodies are still actively growing. But the challenge in achieving this amount of sleep is that children’s internal clocks are still adjusting as they grow and won’t be set on their permanent 24 hour cycle until they reach their mid to late 20’s. Their bodies are not on our 9-5 schedule yet.

During the teens years their biological clock is actually on a 25 hour cycle and is still not coinciding with the adult world's time, which explains why they don’t want to go to bed until later than parents advise and are hard to wake up in the morning. On weekends they sleep forever and during exams stay up all night studying. Their internal clock is not beating in time with yours which leads to many misunderstandings and arguments. So talking is very important. If they are simply going to bed at midnight instead of 11 – they’ll survive but, if their lack of sleep affects their school work and makes them moody – they are not getting enough sleep and intervention is warranted.

In the past few years there has even been serious talk among educators about actually delaying high school start times to 9:30 a.m. to be more in sync with a teen’s actual timing mechanism so they can be in school when they are most alert.
Lifetime sleeping patterns will establish themselves, barring any trauma, stress or physical health issues, by the time they are young adults and the 8 hour sleep schedule should be normal and prevail. It should also be easy to fall asleep and wake up at almost the same time every day, with a little deviation on the weekend. For about 10 years teens and young adults struggle to establish a normal and regular sleep-wake schedule and this should settle down by their 30’s allowing them to live with the rest of us in the 24 hour world.

It is imperative however that a regular bedtime and wake time does develop for everyone to make sure that our internal clock does not break down and cause prolonged sleep problems. Too great a variance between a regular bedtime and wake time should be a signal that problems could be developing.

Among the elderly, the amount of sleep required actually remains the same although your 70 year old mother might tell you she doesn’t need as much sleep. What actually has happened is that the quality of sleep can deteriorate, with sleep becoming less efficient, lighter and less restful. With older people the big concern is that they don’t become reliant on sleep medications, especially because they are probably taking other prescribed meds and risk negative interactions and dependency. External chemicals also end up overriding the body’s natural ability to bring about sleep. So talk to your older parents and young children and watch for noticeable changes in their habits. And make sure that you are getting enough sleep. Do it to set a good example but, most important, to stay healthy.

Tova Greenberg is President of The Sleep Genie. For more information on sleep go to http://www.TheSleepGenie.com

Author's Bio: 

Tova Greenberg is President of The Sleep Genie - a unique sleep aid device driven by a 50 year old science known as CES that works to re-set an individual's sleep clock without drugs or side effects.