The average adult operates best with seven to nine hours of sleep. Older adults need less and children need more. The results from not sleeping enough can be chronic health problems, slow reaction time, impatience and depression.
Sleep StagesA normal sleeper will cycle between two categories of sleep every 90 minutes. One is the “quiet” sleep, where body temperature drops, muscles relax and heart and breathing rates become slower. This stage of sleep allows the body to make necessary physiological changes or repairs.
REM (rapid eye movement) is the last stage of sleep. This is when dreaming occurs. During this stage, body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and breathing are less closely regulated and can be more erratic. Memory and learning are enhanced and emotional health is maintained while in REM.
What Effects Does Sleep Have?Brain Function
Sleeping is a time when your brain can recover from the previous day and prepare for the next. Being well rested enhances problem solving and improves learning. The benefits of sleep for your brain are a better ability to pay attention, be creative and make decisions.
It used to be that sleep disorders were a symptom of mental illness. Scientists now know that sleep deficiency may put you at risk for and even contribute to developing psychiatric disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorder or bipolar disorder.
Sleep deficiency may alter brain activity. This can lead to difficulty controlling your emotions, making decisions and coping with change. Lack of sleep has been linked to poor risk-taking behavior, depression and suicide.
Sleep is the time when the body can devote unused resources to healing, especially your heart and blood vessels. Those who do not get enough sleep increase their risk of stroke, kidney disease and high blood pressure. Other chronic problems that may arise are obesity, diabetes and a weakened immune system.
After several nights of losing just an hour or two of sleep, the body functions as if it hasn’t slept for one or two days. The result of this is microsleep, brief moments of sleep when you should be awake and alert. This can often happen at work, resulting in poor performance or when operating a vehicle, leading to an accident. It is estimated that 100,000 accidents and 1,500 deaths each year are caused by sleep-deprived drivers.
If you suffer from the inability to sleep, simple lifestyle changes may make a big difference. Getting the rest your body needs is much more important than enhancing your mood or eliminating bags under your eyes. Adequate sleep is critical for optimal health, so make sure you set aside the necessary time to rest.
About the Author
Clinton Young, MD is the Medical Director for the Cone Health Sleep Disorders Center