Why is Sleep So Important?

We spend approximately a third of our lives sleeping. Why? Because our bodies need sleep to function during waking hours. Although sleep is one of our basic daily needs, more than 60 percent of adults say their sleep needs are not being fully met during the week. Sleep, like nutrition and physical activity, is critical to our health, and when we don’t get enough, we sacrifice more than just a good night’s sleep.

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Sleep requirements vary from person to person. How much sleep you need will vary depending on your age and especially by lifestyle and health. When determining your personal sleep needs, it is important to assess not only where you fall on the sleep spectrum, but also to examine what other factors are affecting the quality and quantity of sleep you need, such as a job or daily routine. In general, however, the National Institute of Health suggests the following sleep recommendations by age group:  

 Age Recommended Amount of Sleep per Night
 Newborns  16-18 hours
Preschool-aged children 11-12 hours
School-aged children At least 10 hours
 Teens 9-10 hours
Adults 18+ (including the elderly)      9-10 hours

The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep

It’s easy to think about sleep as a time when your body and brain temporarily shuts off. The truth is, however, during rest your brain is hard at work overseeing a wide variety of biological upkeep and preparing for the next day. More specifically, adequate sleep is necessary to:

  • Stay Alert. Good sleep allows your mind to regain focus and tackle those tricky mental challenges. It can also stimulate creativity.
  • Boost Memory. Sleeping is the most important time to shape memories and make the connections between events, feelings and experiences. In fact, sleep is a requirement to form new learning and memory pathways in the brain.
  • Fight Infection. Sleep is your body’s mechanism to ward off infection. When you don’t get enough, your immune system is weaker, making you more susceptible to illness.
  • Be Active. Energy levels after healthy sleep are higher, and your mental awareness is more acute. Good sleep is also tied to improved athletic performance, including greater speed, agility and reflexes.
  • Replenish. During sleep, your body repairs the damage caused by stress, ultraviolet rays and other harmful exposure, as well as muscle injuries and other traumas.

When you don’t get enough sleep over time, not only do you lose out on the key benefits of sleep, but you also become more vulnerable to a number of short- and long-term health risks. Studies show that people who experience chronic sleep deprivation are at increased risk for:

  • Automobile accidents due to drowsy driving
  • Occupational injury due to excessive sleepiness and decreased alertness
  • Obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation
  • Psychiatric conditions such as depression and substance abuse
  • Poorer quality of life

Don't Fall into these Sleep Traps!

Good sleep leads to healthy brain function, improved health and decreased risk for accident and injury, but not all sleep is created equal. To receive the full benefits of a good night’s sleep, make sure you don’t fall into these common sleep traps:

Sleep Trap #1: Getting just 1 hour less per night than you need doesn’t affect your daytime functioning.

While you may not feel noticeably sleepier during the day, even losing an hour of sleep can affect your ability to think properly and respond quickly.

Sleep Trap #2: You can make up for lost sleep during the week by sleeping more on weekends.

Studies show that making up for sleep on the weekends by sleeping in and/or napping only partially erases the deficits associated with not sleeping enough the previous week.

Sleep Trap #3: Extra sleep for one night can cure all your problems with daytime fatigue.

Quality and timing of sleep are just as important as quantity when to comes to healthy rest. Some people sleep a full nine hours a night but don’t feel well rested when they wake up because of poor quality of sleep.

Practicing good sleep hygiene, as well as not falling into the sleep traps listed above, can reverse many cases of sleep deficiency. However, if you (or a loved one) think you may be suffering from sleep deprivation caused by a sleep disorder or another sleep condition, ask your doctor for a referral to a sleep specialist at the UnityPoint Health – Methodist | Proctor Sleep Center to achieve healthier sleep and improved quality of life.

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