Your Guide to Healthy Sleep

Introduction to sleep

When you're in a rush to meet work, school, family, or household responsibilities, do you cut back on your sleep? Like many people, you might think that sleep is merely a "down time" when the brain shuts off and the body rests. Think again.

What is sleep?

Sleep was long considered just a uniform block of time when you are not awake. Thanks to sleep studies done over the past several decades, it is now known that sleep has distinctive stages that cycle throughout the night. Your brain stays active throughout sleep, but different things happen during each stage. For instance, certain stages of sleep are indeed for us to feel well rested and energetic the next day, and other stages help us learn or make memories.

In brief, a number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help maintain good health and enable people to function at their best. On the other hand, not getting enough sleep can be dangerous-for example, you are more likely to be in a car crash if you drive when you are drowsy.

How much sleep is enough?

Sleep needs vary from person to person, and they change throughout the lifecycle. Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep each night. Newborns, on the other hand, sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, and children in preschool sleep between 10 and 12 hours a day. School-aged children and teens need at least 9 hours of sleep a night.

Some people believe that adults need less sleep as they get older. But there is no evidence to show that older people can get by with less sleep than younger people. As people age, however, they often get less sleep or they tend to spend less time in the deep, restful stages of sleep. Older people are also more easily awakened.

Why sleep is good for you and skimping on it isn't

Does it really matter if you get enough sleep? Absolutely! Not only does the quantity of your sleep matter, but the quality of your sleep is important as well. People whose sleep is interrupted a lot or is cut short might not get enough of certain stages of sleep. In other words, how well rested you are and how well you function the next day depend on your total sleep time an dhow much of the various stages of sleep you get each night.

Performance: We need sleep to think clearly, react quickly, and create memories. Inf act, the pathways in the brain that help us learn and remember are very active when we sleep. Studies show that people who are taught mentally challenging tasks do better after a good night's sleep. Other research suggests that sleep is needed for creative problem solving.

Skimping on sleep has a price. Cutting back by even 1 hour can make it tough to focus the next day and can slow your response time. Studies also find that when you lack sleep, you are more likely to make bad decisions and take more risks. This can result in lower performance on the job or in school and a greater risk for a car crash.

Mood: Sleep also affects mood. Insufficient sleep can make you irritable and is linked to poor behavior and trouble with relationships, especially among children and teens. People who chronically lack sleep are also more likely to become depressed.

Health: Sleep is also important for good health. Studies show that not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep on a regular basis increases the risk of having high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical conditions.

In addition, during sleep, your body produces valuable hormones. Deep sleep triggers more release of growth hormone, which fuels growth in children, and helps build muscle mass and repair cells and tissues in children and adults. Another type of hormone that increases during sleep works to fight various infections. This might explain why a good night's sleep helps keep you from getting sick-and helps you recover when you do get sick.

Hormones released during sleep also affect how the body uses energy. Studies find that the less people sleep, the more likely they are to be overweight or obese, to develop diabetes, and to prefer eating foods that are high in calories and carbohydrates.



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