Everyone needs sleep. Sleep allows the body to rest and affects both physical and mental health. While scientists are unsure of everything that sleep does for the body, there is no question that sleep is necessary for survival. But, how much sleep does a person really need?
The amount of sleep a person requires is affected by a person’s age. As people age, they tend to need less sleep. Babies need an average of 16 hours of sleep per day and teenagers require approximately nine hours.
By the time someone is an adult, they generally need an average of seven to eight hours in order to remain in optimal health. Some people may function effectively on as little as five hours of sleep and others may need as many as ten hours per night in order to feel their best.
Other factors that affect someone’s sleep requirements are the amount of sleep they have had in recent days and their general health. For example, a pregnant woman usually needs additional sleep in her first trimester. Someone who is ill or has a depressed immune system generally needs additional rest as well.
When the immune system is depressed, the body produces chemicals to fight infection; these same chemicals induce sleep. Very elderly people often find that they sleep less than when they were younger adults.
Lack of sleep has many effects on the brain and body. Some of the most common signs of sleep deprivation include poor reaction times, lessened judgment, and problem-solving abilities.
These symptoms of sleep deprivation can actually prove dangerous since they can affect a person’s ability to drive, operate other heavy machinery, or make wise and rapid decisions in difficult situations. In addition, physical health is affected adversely by a lack of sleep and the body may be more prone to illness.
So, how can people determine if they are getting enough sleep? The following are signs of lack of sleep:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Ability to fall asleep within five minutes of going to bed
- Difficulty with concentration
- Inability to keep eyes focused
- Frequent yawning
Sleep deprivation cannot be overcome with stimulants such as caffeine or other drugs. The only thing that cures sleep deprivation is regular sleep.
It is incredibly important to make time for sleep. Many busy people cut into their sleep time when their daytime commitments get too time-consuming. Other people have sleep disorders or difficulty sleeping. It is important to address these issues for long-term good health. Some tips for restful sleep include:
- Create a good sleep environment: the bedroom should be dark, a comfortable temperature and free from distraction.
- Avoid substances such as alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine for several hours before you try to sleep: all of these can affect the mind’s ability to enjoy a normal and restful sleep pattern.
- Follow a consistent schedule: dramatically changing a sleep schedule, for example staying up very late on weekends can have an adverse effect on the mind’s ability to rest
- Exercise: Regular exercise helps the body to stay fit and helps sleep patterns as well. However, it is important to stop exercise at least an hour before bedtime as it may act as a stimulant.
- Practice relaxing rituals: calming, peaceful activities shortly before bed often assist the mind and body in preparing for sleep. Warm baths, soft music and other peaceful pursuits may be helpful.
- Turn off computers and televisions at least an hour before bed: studies show the glow of the computer monitor and the TV can act as a stimulant to the brain, interfering with going to sleep.