"Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary laborer and heals hurt minds." -
If you are anything like me, sleep can sometimes be elusive - too little time in the day, too much work to do, too wired due to high caffeine consumption - every conceivable reason I can make up often becomes the reason I DON’T get as much sleep as I need or should get. But getting enough sleep is oh so very important, especially at a time when extreme demands are being made on our attention, our minds, and our bodies.
According to Sleepfoundation.org, the typical adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, something we can safely assume many of us don’t actually get.
Below is a chart provided by the site, breaking down requirements and recommendations on the amount of sleep:
|Age Range||Recommended Hours of Sleep|
|Newborn||0-3 months old||14-17 hours|
|Infant||4-11 months old||12-15 hours|
|Toddler||1-2 years old||11-14 hours|
|Preschool||3-5 years old||10-13 hours|
|School-age||6-13 years old||9-11 hours|
|Teen||14-17 years old||8-10 hours|
|Young Adult||18-25 years old||7-9 hours|
|Adult||26-64 years old||7-9 hours|
|Older Adult||65 or more years old||7-8 hours|
And in actuality, it’s not enough that we increase the quantity of sleep or cover the recommended amount of sleep. We need to pay close attention to the quality of sleep too - uninterrupted, restful and deep.
The Four Stages or Parts of Sleep
There is a process that takes place - four stages in total - that lead to proper and beneficial REM (rapid eye movement) or deep sleep. The earlier stages are Non-REM phases and can get disrupted, causing issues if the disruptions occur constantly. The more important issue is whether you even get the opportunity to allow your body to get to any of these stages.
Stage One - Eyes are closed but you can be woken up. Uninterrupted, this phase lasts for 5 to 10 minutes.
Stage Two - Light sleep phase, where your heart rate slows and body temperature drops. Deep sleep is very close, and uninterrupted this phase lasts for 10 - 25 minutes
Stage Three - Deep sleep stage, where you are hard to rouse from this phase. Blood pressure drops. It is in this stage that your body tissues and cells can grow and repair themselves; your brain cleanses toxins too.
Stage Four - REM deep sleep; This phase is the most beneficial for memory, learning and problem solving, as it allows proper rest and recuperation that leads to strengthening of those cognitive aspects. And there is an increased chance for vivid dreaming to take place. This stage usually occurs about 90 minutes into your sleep.
Why Sleep Is So Important
Brain and Mental Health Benefits
Sleep’s power to recharge our mental well-being can never be understated. Proper sleep:
- Prepares your brain for the next day - it helps with giving your brain the rest required rest to lay the groundwork for more efficient learning, and the acquisition and retaining of new information
- Increases brain development in younger people, through much needed rest and recuperation
- Reduces mental stress, allowing the ability to think clearly, make sound decisions, and control both emotions and behaviour.
- Reduces the chances for depression, anxiety and irritability
Aside from the mental health benefits, sleep gives your body the time and opportunity to fix itself in so many ways. Proper sleep:
- Offers the opportunity for the brain to clear toxins and plaques (e.g. a protein called amyloids) that accumulate in-between brain cells through constant use and complex thinking throughout the day and throughout your life
- Gives your body the chance to balance hormones that make people feel full or hungry, impacting your body’s desire to eat or consume; PLUS help your body’s ability to regulate insulin and blood sugar levels efficiently
- Allows muscles and organs - on a cellular level - to “fix” themselves after damage through daily use and exercise, where hormones are released to promote both growth and healing (especially in young children and adolescents)
- Powers up our immune system, the system that is specifically designed to defend our bodies from bacterial or viral infections and illnesses such as the common cold, or the flu. Lack of sleep makes us susceptible to being sick and chronically weak.
- Reduces people’s chances of suffering from chronic illnesses and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure
- Allows the body to regulate its own metabolism
- Ensures a person has the focus and awareness to react properly when performing certain complex tasks like driving, operating heavy machinery, or making decisions that may impact the safety and health of not only yourself but of others
Obvious Signs of Sleep Deprivation
You can’t hide the consequences or negative impacts of NOT getting enough sleep. If you have any of these symptoms, you may very well be sleep deprived or not getting the quality sleep you NEED:
- Unable to focus or short attention span
- Cloudy or slowed thinking, sometimes resulting in bad decision making
- Dozing off or being drowsy during simple tasks such as sitting or driving
- Moody or Irritable (short-fused)
- Constant fatigue, lack of energy or feeling weak
- Memory loss and inability to retain information
Short-term and Long-term Impacts of Sleep Deprivation/Sleep Loss
As mentioned above, our mental and physical well-being is put at risk over the long-run and when we deprive ourselves of sleep on a consistent basis and over many years.
Obesity and uncontrolled weight-gain can occur, as well as our increasing inability to even fight off common ailments such as the cold or flu. As mentioned before, chronic sleep deprivation/lack of sleep can cause diabetes/insulin resistance, hypertension, heart disease, sleep apnea, stroke, and heart attacks. Some research cases have linked prolonged lack of sleep with dementia and Alzheimer's disease. The lack of time for the brain to shut down and cleanse from toxin and plaque build-up can damage brain cells, increasing the painful risk of developing Alzheimer's. 5.7 million Americans live with this disease. By 2050, that number is predicted to reach 14 million. (Psychologytoday.com).
Tips on Increasing the Quality of Sleep
According to research, there are few simple steps to take when you are trying to get the best sleep possible.
- Consistency - It helps to go to bed and get up from bed at the same time every morning and evening (respectively), including weekends. So there goes the pleasures of sleeping in.
- Absolute Darkness and Quiet - Make sure to make your bedroom as quiet, dark and comfortable as possible (include a comfortable temperature too). Avoid too much bright light at least 3 hours before sleep. Such distractions are an enemy of good sleep.
- Techno No No - Remove electronics and technology from your bedroom. If you can’t remove them, at least shut all of them off - television, computer, tablet and/or smartphone. If you plan to watch some late night tv, Netflix or Youtube, make sure that you don’t do this at least one hour prior to going to bed. It will be harder to fall asleep. In fact, ditch the technology and read a book in bed, or play some relaxing music.
- Food and Other Consumables - Caffeine (no more than 6 - 8 hours before bed), sugars, alcohol, and eating too close to bedtime will wreck your chances of getting good sleep. Late night snacks or dinner should at least be a few hours before jumping into bed.
- Exercise - Doing a bit of physical activity earlier in the day or well before going to sleep will actually lead to better sleep.
- Prioritize the 7-hour Standard - Try to hit this amount consistently and as much as possible, which may mean going to bed earlier to get it!
- Stressing Out Before Bed - Try to stop doing too much or ANY work too close to bedtime. Also, make a habit of not discussing or thinking about stressful things or situations before sleep. The increased anxiety will only work to keep you up and alert.
Not much more can be added to the “whys” and “what fors” in regards to sleeping. As my teachers often told me as a young person wanting to do excel in a particular task or class - please try to do better. It’s safe to say that your body and mind will thank you for making the extra effort.
With the always-awake situation we all face in our adult working and personal lives, sleep can become a casualty in our attempts to get things done. These resources tell you why that's bad AND how to get the sleep you need for optimum health.