The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 years old get seven to nine hours every night while adults 65 and over need seven to eight hours at night. School-aged kids from 6 to 13 years old need nine to eleven hours of sleep and teens from 14 to 17 years old need eight to ten hours of sleep at night.
What happens if you don’t get enough sleep at night?
Looking at the just the obvious effects should be enough to convince you to get enough sleep. When you don’t get enough sleep you often wake up more tired than when you went to bed. If this goes on for very long, you’re going to burn out.
Consider a rechargeable battery. It could be a rechargeable AA battery or the battery inside your laptop, tablet or cellphone. If you don’t leave it plugged in long enough to completely recharge it will run down quicker. You won’t get full use out of it before you have to plug it in again.
The same thing goes for your body. If you don’t get a full night of sleep to recharge your own batteries, you will run out of steam quicker too. Caffeine or sugar may get you through for a little bit but eventually you are going to crash hard.
The Effects of Being Tired
You don’t function as well. When you are tired your response times slow down. You are more likely to have an accident because you can’t react as quickly as you would if you were well rested. You don’t think as clearly and are more likely to make bad decisions. You may even fall asleep at the wheel while you are driving.
When I was a kid I was riding with someone who fell asleep while driving. We were lucky that we were on a divided highway and he drifted off into the median grass and not into the other lane of traffic. The CDC estimates that 5,000 to 6,000 fatal car crashes may be caused by drowsy drivers each year.
What Happens When You Sleep?
When you fall asleep at night you go through several stages of non-REM sleep then reach REM sleep. You probably know that REM stands for rapid eye movement. REM is the stage during which you dream. Then every 90 to 120 minutes you go through a cycle of REM and non-REM sleep. You spend about 75% of your sleep time in non-REM sleep and the other 25% in REM sleep.
You get more out of sleep though than just several dreams that you aren’t likely to remember when you wake up. Your mind and body are going through many processes to recover from the previous day and prepare for the next.
First, you relax and get out of the constant stress of the fight-or-flight mode that so many people spend their whole day in.
- Your muscles relax
- Your breathing slows
- Your heartbeat slows
- Your blood pressure decreases
- Your body temperature decreases
This allows for tissue growth and repair to take place. Your body does most of its healing from the rigors of the previous day. Also, your immune system gets a boost to fight off any infections.
Growth hormone is released while you sleep as well. Children who chronically do not get enough sleep will likely be shorter than those who do. Hormones that regulate appetite are also released. You will be hungrier if you do not get enough sleep, which obviously can lead to weight gain or difficulty losing weight.
Sleep and the Brain
When you sleep your brain becomes very active. It gets increased blood flow that helps to carry in more nutrition and carry away toxins and other waste materials.
It is during sleep that you short-term memories of the previous day get moved to long-term memory. This is where your real learning happens. I read once about a study where kids in school were taught some material then immediately given a test on it. Then they were given another test on the same material the next day. The study showed that the kids generally did better on the second test, the one given after they have had a night to sleep on the material.
How Important Is It to Get Enough Sleep?
With enough sleep you feel energized and ready for a new day. Your body has had a chance to repair and build new muscle. You immune system has had time to deal with invaders. Your brain has processed all of the new information and stored the important data in long-term memory.
Experts have determined that sleepwalking and talking in your sleep are signs of sleep deprivation.
Tips to Improve Your Sleep
Try to maintain a regular schedule. Go to sleep about the same time every night and get up about the same time every morning. Even on the weekends. Your body will get used to the schedule and you won’t have to rely so much on that alarm clock.
You can naturally regulate your sleep/wake cycle by getting plenty of sunlight during the day. Spend some time outside. Don’t wear sunglasses when you are outside. Your eyes are how your body detects that the sun is shining. If you ditch the sunglasses you won’t get sunburned as fast either. If you have to be inside all the time, then use a full-spectrum lamp to get all the light frequencies. Your eyes and your sleeps cycle will thank you.
The other side to naturally regulating your sleep/wake cycle is to reduce the amount of light you are exposed to at night. Cut back on the TV, computer and other backlit devices before bed. That includes anything that lights up, including your tablet and your phone. Reading a book before bed, either a real book (yes, they still make them) or on an e-reader that isn’t backlit. Keep your bedroom dark. I have a streetlight outside my bedroom window so I use a sleep mask.
Make your bedroom more sleep-friendly. Make it a quiet space, keep it cool, and make sure your bed is comfortable. If your mattress is getting old then you may want to look at getting a new one. I have written recently about how magnets, like in a magnetic mattress pad, can help you sleep.
Here are a few other things that you can do to help you get to sleep at night. Stay away from big meals at night and avoid alcohol before bed. Cut down on the amount of caffeine you take in the afternoon. Caffeine can continue to affect you for up to twelve hours after you drink it. Avoid too many liquids in the evening so that you don’t have to get up during the night to visit the restroom.
Practice some deep breathing or other form of meditation when you get into bed at night. That will help your body to relax and get ready for sleep. I also find it helpful to list a few things that I’m grateful for before going to sleep. It puts my mind in a happy place instead of a worried place that could disrupt my sleep.
What Do You Think?
I have shared with you some of the science that shows how important it is to get enough quality sleep at night and some ways to help you to get to sleep. Do you think that sleep is important? What do you do to help you get to sleep at night? Please share your thoughts in a comment below and I would greatly appreciate it if you would take a moment to share this post with your followers on Facebook and Twitter.
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