In today's fast-paced world, a good night's
sleep has become somewhat of an indulgence. It has fallen down our list of
priorities behind work, chores, social time, and entertainment. But sleep
should not be a luxury. It’s a vital part of life as important to your physical
and mental health as food and water.
Understanding the need for sleep is a
relatively new research field. Scientists continue to study what happens to the
body during sleep and why the process of sleep is so essential. We do know that
sleep is necessary to:
- maintain critical body functions
- restore energy
- repair muscle tissue
- allow the brain to process new information
We also know what happens when the
body doesn't get
enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can cause a range of mental and physical
problems, including impaired ability to:
- think clearly
- control your emotions
This can result in serious problems in the
workplace and at home. Furthermore, chronic sleep deprivation has been shown to
increase the risk for serious health conditions such as diabetes,
cardiovascular disease, obesity, and depression, according to the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions
(SCAI). It can also affect your immune system, reducing your body's ability to
fight off infections and diseases.
Think of a sleep-deprived body as a car
with a flat tire. The car is running, but it’s moving slowly with fewer
capabilities and less power. The longer you drive in that condition, the more
you'll damage the car.
Despite the importance of sleep, the
average American adult sleeps fewer than seven hours per night. An estimated 50
to 70 million US adults have a sleep or wakefulness disorder, says the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention (CDC). These disorders include:
- sleep apnea
- restless legs syndrome (RLS)
Our sleep habits change as we age. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says the
average adult needs approximately seven to eight hours of sleep per night.
School-aged children need at least 10 hours per night, and teens need nine to 10 hours per night.
But sleep assessment is not just about
quantity. Sleep quality is equally important. There are two main types of
sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep is
divided into four stages that range from light sleep to deep sleep. All stages
of sleep are important, but deep sleep and REM sleep are the most critical. It’s
during these stages that the important restorative functions of sleep take
Many people with sleep disorders may sleep
an adequate amount of time but do not reach a deep enough stage of sleep to
feel well rested and refreshed in the morning. Waking up frequently in the
night can also prevent you from reaching the critical stages of sleep.
To some, sleep comes as naturally as
blinking or walking. For others, getting enough quality sleep is a major
challenge that requires lifestyle changes or medical intervention. There are
numerous reasons for sleep problems, ranging from short-term stressors to
serious, long-term sleep disorders. If you have chronic sleep problems, talk to
your doctor about finding a solution or possible treatment options.