Sleep: Are You Getting Enough?

The Function of Sleep

sleep Why is sleep so critical to our well-being? If resting in bed were all it took to recharge body and mind for the coming day, insomniacs could take in their favorite late night television and start the next day fresh. But surprisingly, it's not how much sleep you get that's important—it's the level of sleep you achieve that truly restores you, body and mind. Sleep can be divided into two crucial phases:
  • Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep takes up about 75% of the average sleeper's night. The earliest phase of NREM sleep begins with general relaxation of muscles. This relaxed state eventually culminates in the deepest sleep level when it appears that protein synthesis, growth hormones, immune function, and the mind are given a boost. Delta waves—the slowest and largest waves—signal the onset of this most rejuvenating sleep level.
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep takes up about 25% of an average dreamer's night. Dreams that occur during REM sleep might provide, in a sense, a sorting through of free-floating information. REM sleep is thought to be a very important period for mental revitalization.

Risky Consequences From Sleeplessness

In addition to productivity and safety consequences, research shows that people who have insomnia or are chronically sleep deprived may be more likely to have an increased risk of:People who do not get enough sleep may also:
  • Have behavioral problems
  • Drink more alcohol and use more sedatives than they usually do
  • Experience a decreased enjoyment in life

Who Is Most Affected?

Late Shift Workers

Not only do Americans give up a good night's rest in an attempt to keep up with the hectic pace of the electronic age, many, including late shift healthcare, military and public safety workers, nuclear power plant operators, medical residents, and long-haul truck drivers, are building daily schedules against the body's natural circadian rhythm. That rhythm dictates that the longest period of sleepiness occurs during the hours of 2:00 am to 4:00 am. Thus, people who work the late shift lose out on the time that the body is programmed for the deepest and most beneficial sleep.

Older Adults

The elderly, too, cope with a special set of difficulties that keeps them from getting the sleep they need. Aging brings on a host of health-related problems that interrupt sleep, such as having pain from conditions like arthritis and taking medicines with side effects that disturb rest. More than any other population, the elderly rely on medicines that keep them up at night. Moreover, a more sedentary lifestyle doesn't allow for the expenditure of energy that results in restful sleep. Lastly, the brain doesn't allow for the same degree of deep sleep per night as enjoyed in youth.But none of this means that the elderly don't need as much rest as everyone else. The combination of conditions that change the sleep habits of the elderly only indicates that they need to alter their sleep habits so that they get enough shut-eye.

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