One of our most important daily activities, critical for the upkeep and proper functioning of our mind, body, and spirit, is also one of our least understood activities.
Worse yet, it is often taken for granted.
That vital activity is sleep.
Over the centuries, theories have continually evolved about why sleep occurs and why people need sleep.
The Repair and Restoration Theory on Sleep states that the cycles of sleep are important in restoring normal physiological and psychological functions of the body and mind. The Adaptive Theory of Sleep suggests that sleep is a way of conserving energy. Another theory suggests that sleep occurs as a way for us to process memories we have acquired during the day.
Of course, we have oversimplified these theories, as there are innumerable components involved in sleep. With so many benefits, why are most people sleep-deprived?
In the past, it was believed that the average adult slept for 9 to 10 hours. Today some studies have indicated that the average American adult sleeps somewhere between 6 and 7 hours a day.
Most medical societies recommend that adults get between 7 and 9 hours of quality, uninterrupted sleep.
Americans are among the busiest people in the world. Life is fast-paced here, and we jam-pack so many activities into our days that sleep becomes of secondary importance.
We use stimulants such as caffeine to keep us awake, then take something to help us relax or sleep.
Aside from the stresses of life, a number of medical conditions may contribute to a poor-quality sleep. Also, due to inadequate or poor-quality sleep, we are at risk of developing additional health conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, depression, fibromyalgia, obesity and anxiety.
Some of these health problems resulting from poor sleep can in turn contribute to poor sleep! It is a vicious cycle.
The physiology behind the normal sleep cycle is quite complex. It involves stages of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep and non-REM sleep.
Non-REM sleep is further broken down into sleep Stages 1 through 4. It is believed that REM sleep is associated with consolidation of memory, while Non-REM sleep helps restore or repair the mind and body.
It is estimated that these sleep stages occur in cycles lasting 90 to 120 minutes each, and typically a normal adult sleep time of eight hours has four to five such cycles.
The recommended amount of sleep varies with age groups as well.
• Newborns (birth to 2 months) need 10.5 to 18 hours of sleep a day.
• Babies (2 months to 1 year) need 14 to 15 hours a day.
• Children 1 to 3 years need 12 to 15 hours a day.
• Children 3 to 5 years need 11 to 13 hours a day.
• Children 5 to 12 years need 9 to 11 hours a day.
• Adolescents need 8.5 to 9.5 hours a day.
• Adults need 7 to 9 hours a day.
Remember, broken or interrupted sleep, although better than no sleep, is still not as restorative as good-quality, uninterrupted sleep.
If you are not getting good-quality sleep, speak to your healthcare provider about what changes you can make to help. The answer is not always simply taking another sleeping pill. There may be underlying lifestyle or medical problems that, once corrected, should help improve your sleep.
This article was written for general information purposes and is not meant as a substitute for the personalized care of your doctor. Please see your doctor before making any significant lifestyle changes.