Get Some Sleep!
May is Better Sleep Month which makes this the perfect time to look at all of the benefits of sleep as well as the effects of not getting enough sleep. We spend 33% of our lives asleep. It’s time to know more about why this one-third of our lives is so important.
Benefits of Sleep
There have been several studies looking at why humans and animals need sleep. While the results have not been conclusive, what is known is that without sleep, our bodies will experience some very serious consequences. According to Harvard Medical School, sleep is very important in helping our immune system fight off illness. Sleep also plays a big role in our metabolism as well as our ability to learn and remember things. Getting less sleep than needed has been linked to heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and shortened life expectancy.
Benefits of sleep include being more alert and better able to function during our days. We are also able to maintain a healthier weight. One of the reasons for this is that we aren’t looking for quick pick-me-ups, such as sugar or caffeine-laden foods to help us stay awake. We are able to think clearer and make better choices not only in what we eat, but in everything that we do.
We just talked about how getting enough sleep can help us be more alert and make better choices. The effects of not being alert or being able to make good decisions can be dangerous. While we all want to be healthy, the preventable accidents often seem more real to us and can be driving factors in getting people to change their sleep habits. According to research reported by Harvard Medical School, the nuclear disasters in 1979 at Three Mile Island and in 1986 at Chernobyl were linked to sleep deprivation in those responsible for key operations at the plants. Additionally, Harvard reports that the Exxon Valdez oil tanker incident as well as the Challenger explosion was due to lack of sleep on the part of operators and technicians. While not all sleep deprived incidents are this large, even driving while drowsy can be dangerous and can lead to serious crashes.
How much sleep do I need?
Now that we know why sleep is important, how do we know if we are getting enough? Do you have a hard time waking up? Do you need a nap part-way through the day? Are you falling asleep while working or driving? If your answer to any of these is yes, you are not getting enough sleep.
The amount of sleep you need depends on your age and also on your individual needs. Remember that everyone is different and some people don’t need as much sleep as others. In general, however, doctors recommend the amounts listed below.
Preschoolers age 3-5 years: Children in this age group need about 11-13 hours of sleep a day. This includes nap time. However, during this stage of growth, there is a wide variety of napping ranging from 2 hours to none at all.
School-age children age 6-13 years: Kids in this age group need anywhere from 8-11 hours of sleep each night.
Teens age 13-19 years: Teens need a similar amount of sleep—about 8-10 hours. However, as children enter their teenage years, their sleep patterns may change. They often start staying up later and waking up later. Some teens may need even more sleep which is what makes parents feel like their teens are sleeping all the time.
Adults: Most adults need 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Keep in mind that some people may need more. There is nothing wrong with that! Everyone is different.
Many adults and some children have difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. There are several things you can do to try to help with this issue.
- Stick to a regular bedtime and bedtime routine. Keeping this time consistent will help your body know when it’s time to start shutting down for sleep.
- Shut off the electronics an hour before bed. The light from electronic devices such as phones and computers can interfere with our natural “shutting down” cycles. And while we’re at it…
- Keep TV’s out of bedrooms. This decreases the temptation to watch until we fall asleep or to turn it on when we wake in the night.
- Keep the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Our body temperature drops during sleep. Keeping the room a little cooler can aid in that process.
This article focused on preschool children through adults. For information about sleep for infants and toddlers, go to http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sleep.html#.
For more information about research related to sleep and the information from Harvard Medical School, go to http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/.