Facts about sleep

Why Is Sleep Important?

Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.

The way you feel while you're awake depends in part on what happens while you're sleeping. During sleep, your body is working to support healthy brain function and maintain your physical health. In children and teens, sleep also helps support growth and development.

The damage from sleep deficiency can occur in an instant (such as a car crash), or it can harm you over time. For example, ongoing sleep deficiency can raise your risk for some chronic health problems. It also can affect how well you think, react, work, learn, and get along with others.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The amount of sleep you need each day will change over the course of your life. Although sleep needs vary from person to person, the chart below shows general recommendations for different age groups.

Age Recommended Amount of Sleep
Newborns 16–18 hours a day
Preschool-aged children 11–12 hours a day
School-aged children At least 10 hours a day
Teens 9–10 hours a day
Adults (including the elderly) 7–8 hours a day

If you routinely lose sleep or choose to sleep less than needed, the sleep loss adds up. The total sleep lost is called your sleep debt. For example, if you lose 2 hours of sleep each night, you'll have a sleep debt of 14 hours after a week.

Some people nap as a way to deal with sleepiness. Naps may provide a short-term boost in alertness and performance. However, napping doesn't provide all the other benefits of nighttime sleep. Thus, you can't really make up for lost sleep.

Some people sleep more on their days off than on work days. They also may go to bed later and get up later on days off.

Sleeping more on days off might be a sign that you aren't getting enough sleep. Although extra sleep on days off might help you feel better, it can upset your body's sleep–wake rhythm.

Bad sleep habits and long-term sleep loss will affect your health. If you're worried about whether you're getting enough sleep, try using a sleep diary for a couple of weeks.  

Write down how much you sleep each night, how alert and rested you feel in the morning, and how sleepy you feel during the day. Show the results to your doctor and talk about how you can improve your sleep. You can find a sample sleep diary in the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's "Your Guide to Healthy Sleep."

Sleeping when your body is ready to sleep is also very important. Sleep deficiency can affect people even when they sleep the total number of hours recommended for their age group.

For example, people whose sleep is out of sync with their body clocks (such as shift workers) or routinely interrupted (such as caregivers or emergency responders) might need to pay special attention to their sleep needs.  

If your job or daily routine limits your ability to get enough sleep or sleep at the right times, talk with your doctor. You also should talk with your doctor if you sleep more than 8 hours a night, but don't feel well rested. You may have a sleep disorder or other health problem.

Healthy Brain Function and Emotional Well-Being

Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you're sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day. It's forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information.

Studies show that a good night's sleep improves learning. Whether you're learning math, how to play the piano, how to perfect your golf swing, or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills. Sleep also helps you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative.

Studies also show that sleep deficiency alters activity in some parts of the brain. If you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling your emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior.

Children and teens who are sleep deficient may have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, and they may get lower grades and feel stressed.

Physical Health

Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, sleep is involved in healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke

Sleep deficiency also increases the risk of obesity. For example, one study of teenagers showed that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese went up. Sleep deficiency increases the risk of obesity in other age groups as well.

Sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don't get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down. This makes you feel hungrier than when you're well-rested.

Sleep also affects how your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls your blood glucose (sugar) level. Sleep deficiency results in a higher than normal blood sugar level, which may increase your risk for diabetes.

Sleep also supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens, and adults. Sleep also plays a role in puberty and fertility.

Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. This system defends your body against foreign or harmful substances. Ongoing sleep deficiency can change the way in which your immune system responds. For example, if you're sleep deficient, you may have trouble fighting common infections.

Daytime Performance and Safety

Getting enough quality sleep at the right times helps you function well throughout the day. People who are sleep deficient are less productive at work and school. They take longer to finish tasks, have a slower reaction time, and make more mistakes.

After several nights of losing sleep—even a loss of just 1–2 hours per night—your ability to function suffers as if you haven't slept at all for a day or two.

Lack of sleep also may lead to microsleep. Microsleep refers to brief moments of sleep that occur when you're normally awake.

You can't control microsleep, and you might not be aware of it. For example, have you ever driven somewhere and then not remembered part of the trip? If so, you may have experienced microsleep.

Even if you're not driving, microsleep can affect how you function. If you're listening to a lecture, for example, you might miss some of the information or feel like you don't understand the point. In reality, though, you may have slept through part of the lecture and not been aware of it.

Some people aren't aware of the risks of sleep deficiency. In fact, they may not even realize that they're sleep deficient. Even with limited or poor-quality sleep, they may still think that they can function well.

For example, drowsy drivers may feel capable of driving. Yet, studies show that sleep deficiency harms your driving ability as much as, or more than, being drunk. It's estimated that driver sleepiness is a factor in about 100,000 car accidents each year, resulting in about 1,500 deaths.

Drivers aren't the only ones affected by sleep deficiency. It can affect people in all lines of work, including health care workers, pilots, students, lawyers, mechanics, and assembly line workers.

As a result, sleep deficiency is not only harmful on a personal level, but it also can cause large-scale damage. For example, sleep deficiency has played a role in human errors linked to tragic accidents, such as nuclear reactor meltdowns, grounding of large ships, and aviation accidents.

Eight crazy things that might happen to you while you’re in dreamland

Sexomnia? Sleeping your way skinnier? Jolting yourself awake? Check out these weird-but-true facts to discover some of the crazy things that might be happening to you while you’re fast asleep.

Sexsomnia Is Real

About eight percent of people have ‘sleep sex,’ where they get it on while they're not fully conscious. It's not yet clear why some people are more prone to sexsomnia—it might be more likely to happen when you go to bed feeling frisky but fall asleep before making love, or when you are dreaming about sex and your body starts to act it out while your mind is still asleep.

You Can Jolt Yourself Awake

It’s not unusual to feel like you're physically falling while you’re falling asleep. This feeling can trigger your limbs to jolt yourself awake. Your body is typically temporarily paralyzed while you’re sleeping, but the paralysis hasn’t happened yet during the earliest, lightest sleep stage, so you might experience what is known as a hypnagogic or [sleep_term id="1194"].

Sleep is As Important as Diet and Exercise

You probably already fit in 30 minutes of exercise on most days and stock your kitchen with nutritious eats, but don’t forget to add "make time for zzz's" to your stay-healthy list. It's just as critical, because sleep deprivation has been linked to heart disease, depression, and diabetes.

You Have Dreams Even If You Don’t Remember Them

The average person has four to six dreams a night, but most people can’t recall up to 99 percent of them. Try keeping a dream journal next to your bed and jotting down anything that you remember as soon as you wake up.

You Can Sleep Your Way Skinny

Getting your beauty sleep can help regulate hormones that control appetite, so you’ll eat fewer calories overall when you snooze for seven to nine hours per night, compared with when you're underslept. Specifically, lack of sleep can decrease ghrelin, a hormone that helps you feel satiated, and increase the hunger hormone leptin. Moreover, not sleeping enough makes you more likely to reach for unhealthy foods: Cravings for high-calorie, fatty foods surge by 45 percent when you're sleep-deprived.

Newborns Sleep an Average of 14 to 17 Hours a Day

Babies have a lot of growing to do, so they need a lot more sleep than adults. The weird thing is that, unlike adults, if your baby is sleep-deprived he or will sleep less, not more!

Snoozing Can Improve Your Memory

Feeling more forgetful? Try clocking more time in the sack. In fact, sleep-deprived people score lower on tests of working memory (a.k.a. short-term memory) than those who have had a good night’s rest.

Athletes Need More Sleep

How much sleep that you need, exactly, depends on your genes. Most adults need about seven to nine hours a night, but athletes may improve their performance by sleeping up to 10 hours per night, because all of that physical activity means that their bodies require more sleep to repair muscles and restore energy.

No need to go on a yoga retreat: Beat stress with some easy techniques.

Stress not only makes you irritable and tense during the day—it can also make it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. That’s because it puts you in a state of hyperarousal, causing your blood pressure and your breathing rate to increase.The key to combatting stress: relaxation. Luckily, these smart strategies can help you unwind your mind, so your body is relaxed at night and can ease into dreamland.

Make a List.

If tomorrow’s to-dos tend to race around your brain as you try to drift off, get them out of your head by jotting them down. Whether you prefer to use a pen and paper or type up a quick note in your smartphone, this strategy ensures that you won't forget about anything the next day, which may help you stop worrying. Another option: Keep a nightly journal, where you can record any anxieties and frustrations—and then close the cover and leave them on the page for the night.

Take Five Breaths.

Even a few inhales and exhales can calm your nervous system. Place a hand on your lower belly and feel it rise and fall as you breathe in for a count of three, and then breathe out for another count of three. Repeat this cycle five times. 

Tune in to Your Senses.

Doing so keeps you in the present moment, which prevents you from focusing on sleep-inhibiting stressful thoughts. Think about how the sheets feel against your skin, what sounds you hear out your window, and how the air smells.

Tense Your Toes.

Yes, you’re trying to relax, but by tensing and then relaxing your toes, you can help your whole body become calm. Lie on your back and close your eyes. Focus on how your toes feel. Now, tense and pull all ten toes up toward your face and hold them there for a count of ten. Then release them and count to ten. Repeat this exercise ten times.

Eat to sleep better

Looking for a New Year's resolution? How about improving your sleep through your diet? What you eat has more of an effect on how you snooze than you may think. Following these four simple food-related strategies can help you hit the sack better each night and feel more refreshed each morning.

Healthy eating leads to healthy sleeping.

A diet low in fiber and high in saturated fats could take a toll on your shuteye by decreasing the amount of deep, slow-wave sleep that you get during the night. Meanwhile, eating too much sugar could result in more midnight wake-ups. On the other hand, a healthy balanced diet that's high in fiber and low in added sugars could help you to drift off faster, and log as many as two extra hours of sleep a week.

Diet-induced heartburn can keep you up at night.

Anyone who has suffered from gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) knows just how miserable it can be to go to bed with heartburn. In fact, people with nighttime heartburn are more likely to have sleep problems and disorders like insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, and daytime sleepiness. Luckily, the right diet can make a difference. Steer clear of large fried or high-fat meals, spicy foods, alcohol, and soda—especially close to bedtime. Your sleep—and your waistline—will thank you.

The best diet for sleep is also good for your total health.

For your best night's sleep, strive to eat a balanced diet that emphasizes fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat proteins that are rich in B vitamins, like fish, poultry, meat, eggs, and dairy. B vitamins may help to regulate melatonin, a hormone that regulates your sleep cycles.

Losing weight can lead to better sleep

Eating well is the first step to losing weight. And that can pay dividends when it comes to your sleep. A reduction in body fat, especially around your midsection, makes you less likely to struggle with sleep problems like sleep apnea, restlessness, or insomnia, and less likely to fight sleepiness during the day.

What You Should Know About the Spanish Siesta

The siesta is one of the most notable aspects of Spanish life—that dead period in the late afternoon when everything shuts down in Spain, in theory, so people can rest and take a nap.

Traditional Siesta Times

Over the years, there have been two periods of siesta in Spain—siesta for shops and businesses, when many people go to a bar or restaurant—and then siesta for the restaurants, who obviously can't rest when everyone wants to come and eat. The siesta for shops and businesses is from approximately 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. while bars and restaurants close from about 4 p.m. until about 8 or 9 p.m. 

Napping to Avoid the Mid-Day Heat

Spain is a hot country, especially mid-afternoon, and the traditional reason for the siesta is for the workers in the fields to shelter from the heat. They would then feel refreshed after their sleep and would work until quite late in the evening, longer than they would have been able to without the siesta. 

While people do still work outside in Spain, this reason doesn't account for why shops and businesses in big cities should close down today. Indeed, offices can get hot too, but the invention of air conditioning has helped in this department. So why do they still do it?  

Lunch Held Cultural Importance

One big reason for the traditional siesta is that the Spanish have always liked to have a long lunch. At home, a mother will cook a huge lunch for the whole family (and yes, that does include for her grown son; it is still customary to enjoy a home-cooked meal as an adult out of the nest). This meal could last up to two hours (longer if time allowed), and alcohol was often included. Rest before going back to work was essential after that. 

However now, people do not always work close to their homes, so they aren't heading home for that long family lunch. They would rather work shorter hours and get home earlier in the evening.  

Sleeping To Stay Up Later

Another reason why the Spanish have traditionally stopped for siesta is not so much out of need, but out of want. One reason that the Spanish continue to want the traditional lunchtime break is that it allows them to stay up later in the evening without fading. The nightlife of Spain may have caused (or maintained) the country's siesta culture, but it is the siesta that allows the late night partying lifestyle to continue, and many Spaniards don't want that to change. 

The sun stays out much later in Spain than in most other European countries, thus encouraging later eating and partying. Spanish nightlife is an all-night affair. The streets start to fill up at midnight and Spanish people stay out beyond 3 a.m., which would be difficult without a siesta. 

Stress and Sleep – How To Master Stress And Enjoy Restful Sleep Instantly 

The National Center on Sleep Disorders Research estimates that approximately 40 million Americans have some kind of sleep disorder. This encompasses a wide range of illnesses and conditions that include insomniasleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

Sleep-related disorders are on the rise and many illnesses that people are suffering from during the day, may be connected to poor sleep, at night.

Depression, weight gain and high blood pressure are just a few of the health issues that can be related to insufficient sleep and the connection between poor sleep and stress can be a cyclical one.

Too much stress can cause you to have a bad sleep, leading to mental and physical health issues which can, in turn, cause stress in daily life, leading to poor sleep at night.

Understanding how stress and sleep are connected is the path to getting a handle on the problem and learning how to manage stress during the day can only help improve your overall health and wellness and, hopefully, lead to better sleep, too.

5 Ways in Which Stress Affects Your Body

  • Endocrine system – Stress causes the adrenal gland to release epinephrine, or adrenaline and norepinephrine, or noradrenaline, into the body, which helps your body respond to danger by increasing heart rate, constricting blood vessels and converting fat to energy. Your body also releases cortisol during stress, which has many damaging effects on the body when unregulated. The increase in hormones causes the liver to produce more glucose and strains the body’s ability to reabsorb the sugar, causing diabetes. Even more frightening, an Australian study showed that chronic stress increases the rate and volume at which lymphatic vessels drain cancerous tumours, helping them to spread throughout the body.
  • Respiratory system – Stress can cause increased and shallow breathing or holding of your breath, meaning that cells don’t get enough oxygen. This can lead to dizziness, lack of concentration and you could even temporarily lose consciousness.
  • Circulatory system – When you are under stress, your heart beats faster, working to pump blood quickly around your body to get it ready for action. Blood pressure is raised and when under stress and it can be raised for too long, causing long-term problems for the body.
  • Digestive system – Heartburn, acid reflux, ulcers and esophageal spasms are all health issues that can be tied to stress in the body, as your body produces more acid and controls what nutrients you absorb during times of high stress. This can also cause constipation and diarrhoea.
  • Musculoskeletal system – During times of high stress, muscles are constantly tightened, leading to pain, injury and chronic issues like migraines and tension headaches.

How to Lower Stress Levels to Improve Sleep

While there are a few chronic sleep conditions that may require medical intervention, like sleep apnoea and insomnia, if your sleep loss is due to stress, there are some things you can do to help yourself. Check out some of these tips and tricks to relieving stress and incorporate a few of them into your daily life, to see if you notice any difference in sleep quality.

Increase your exposure to daylight

If you work inside a dark office during the day or live in the northern hemisphere, you might not be getting enough daylight and your sleep might be affected.

Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight or bright indoor lights during the morning hours helps people sleep better at night.Adequate daylight is also shown to decrease depression and stress.

Help calibrate your circadian rhythm by making sure you get lots of daylight and if you can’t, consider investing in a light therapy device to keep near you, during the day.

Exercise

Make sure you are giving yourself time to exercise during the day. Exercise is considered by health professionals as one of the best ways to maintain mental health and reduce stress.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says that “when stress affects the brain, with its many nerve connections, the rest of the body feels the impact, as well.

So, it stands to reason that if your body feels better, so does your mind.” Exercise releases endorphins into the body that not only make you happy but help reduces stress and improve sleep.

Try some natural relaxation and wellness techniques

Meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques have all proved effective for stress and sleep disorders. There are plenty of guided meditations and yoga routines geared specifically to those with problems sleeping.

Take some time out of your busy day to wind down at the end of it.Even if you have only 10 minutes for a short meditation before you go to bed, you may see a positive result.

You don’t need any special skills or to follow any religious dogma, so give it a try. No time? Fall asleep to music or nature sounds geared especially for deep sleep.

 

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