Sleep...Are you getting enough?

  • Get Your ZZZZ's

    Why do we sleep?  Sleep is a complex process of restoration and renewal which allows the body time to rest and recover from the day’s activities and prepare for the next day.  Researchers believe that sleep lets the brain reorganize itself by sorting and storing information, solving problems, strengthening memories and replacing chemicals.  Sleep affects both mental and physical function.  It influences mood, performance, alertness, and concentration, and physically, it affects appetite, metabolism and the immune system.   Serious health problems, such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease have been linked to chronic sleep deprivation.

    All higher animals, including humans, need to rest or sleep; it is necessary for survival.  Animals typically have a regular pattern of sleep and activity; some sleep primarily in the day and others, including humans, sleep or rest during the night.   

    How much sleep is necessary?  The answer – it varies depending on the animal.  In general, large animals sleep less than small animals. Some, like the giraffe, sleep less than two hours a day and may go a couple of weeks without sleep, while the brown bat sleeps almost 20 hours every day.  The way animals sleep varies, too.  Elephants and horses lock their knees and sleep standing up; bats, manatees, and sloths sleep upside down.  Birds often sleep with one eye open to check for predators.  Most fish rest or “sleep” with both eyes open and some, like sharks, sleep while moving.  Dolphins sleep 12 hours every night by resting one hemisphere of their brains at a time allowing them to watch out for predators, other animals or obstacles, and to rise to the surface to take a breath of fresh air.

    In humans, the need for sleep changes with age.  Newborn babies sleep from 16 to 18 hours a day, preschool children typically sleep between 10 and 12 hours, school-aged children and teens need at least 9 hours and most adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Insufficient sleep can lead to problems like irritability, lethargy, moodiness, difficulty with short-term memory, slower response time, and decreased attentiveness.

    Teens and sleep  

    Sleep patterns change during the teen years, their bodies want to stay up late and wake up later in the day, but teens still need 8 ½ to 9 ½ hours of sleep every night.  Typically, they do not get enough sleep due to schedules packed with school, homework, activities, friends, and possibly, a job.  Teens should be encouraged to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning.  A warm bath, reading for pleasure, or listening to music may help create a relaxing environment as a prelude to sleep.  Keeping the television, computer and cell phone out of the bedroom and creating an environment that is cool, dark and quiet are all methods that can help a teen get the ZZZZZZZ’s they need.

    Six reasons to get enough sleep according to the Harvard Women’s Health Watch:

    1.  Learning and memory:  Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation.  In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
    2. Metabolism and weight:  Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
    3.  Safety:  Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime.  These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as automobile accidents.  (More than half of "asleep at the wheel" car accidents are caused by teens.)
    4. Mood:  Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can, also, leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
    5. Cardiovascular health:  Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
    6.  Disease:  Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells.  Keeping up with sleep may, also, help fight cancer. 

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