We all know that getting enough sleep is important, but there are only so many hours in the day and we’re so busy. If you’re running exhausted, if you’re running on fumes, you might not be able to ask for a day off to just curl up in bed and sleep it off. You might wonder if you just need to learn to adapt to much less sleep, like some people claim they can. Getting a full night’s sleep really is essential, though. The following article draws from materials from the United States’ National Institutes of Health and Australia’s Better Health Channel.
What sleep does for us
Sleep lets us reset, sleep lets us refresh. Sleep rejuvenates our minds and bodies. It helps us heal and it helps us think when we wake up. It’s especially important when we’re young. Scientists believe that deep sleep releases growth hormones in children and young adults. Babies spend more time in REM sleep (dreaming) than most sleepers, and many scientists believe REM is linked with learning and brain development. Even when we’re no longer growing, REM sleep can help us make logical connections we might not otherwise. It may also help us form memories.
Sleep in general allows us to rest our emotions and our decision-making, so we can approach problems with new eyes. Also, when a body’s in deep sleep, scientists have found that our cells produce more and their proteins break down less. Sleep really can help repair us from stress or injury.
What lack of sleep does to us
The studies really aren’t in favor of skipping sleep. One study observed what happened to rats that were completely deprived of sleep. Rats normally live three years; these lived three weeks. They also got sick with sores and their body temperature dropped. Scientists think lack of sleep can wreak havoc on our immune systems.
Even if we don’t completely skip sleeping for three weeks, sleep deprivation of any kind has bad effects. Waking up fatigued makes it difficult for you to function for the rest of the day. Your judgment is worse, concentration is impaired, and memories are vaguer. You’re more likely to be moody. You’re also more likely to get into accidents. It’s a serious matter. Studies show that a person driving tired or even performing basic hand-eye coordination tasks when tired performs as badly as or worse than a drunk person.
Some studies show that a lack of sleep can even have a negative effect on our skin.
How much sleep do we need?
We used to sleep much more than we do now. Back when sleep schedules were based on sunrises and sunsets, people slept an average of ten hours a night. This sounds almost luxurious for today’s adults.
Even if we don’t usually get ten hours of sleep, we need at least 7 or 8 hours to be healthy. The average adult gets 6 to 7, for reference. Teenagers need even more sleep, about 9, and babies really do need their 16 hours. There are exceptions, as always. Some people can subsist on a few hours of sleep, while some can’t function without ten hours. The general rule is, however, to try to get at least 7 hours in order to stay healthy.