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Sleep: Not an Option

25 Feb
Did you know that human beings might need to spend at least 1/3 of their lives sleeping or nearly twenty-four years in bed over an average lifetime? Representing a basic human need and a part of individuals’ life, sleep is vital to people’s health and wellbeing. However, and despite the importance of sleep, many individuals take it for granted and don’t get enough of it while subsequent constant sleep loss may result in common health problems. Although most of us suffer from sleep difficulties at least a few nights per week, sporadic cases of insomnia don’t generally signify a big concern; nevertheless settling for a permanent sleep time of 4 to 6 hours a day can interfere with our daily lives.

While different abnormalities in the organism, emotional disorders, work shifts and other age, health and lifestyle conditions are tied to sleep problems and prevent a large number of people from getting the amount of sleep they need, those individuals who actually have the option of getting 8 or more hours of sleep but would rather choose to stay up late doing other things, should benefit instead from the much-needed rest that our minds and bodies require to function normally and stay healthy. As unimportant as they may seem, constantly staying late partying, talking to friends, playing online, working extra hours or studying, among others, are all factors that can drive individuals away form getting the right quantity and quality of sleep their bodies demand.

The exact amount of sleep required varies from person to person depending on people’s individual needs, health, age and lifestyle. For instance, some people are well rested after only 6 hours of sleep, but because of the human biological composition and our early hereditary makeup, individuals are not ready to run on small amounts of sleep for such genetic structure hasn’t developed as fast as to match the pace of the hectic society in which we live. In spite of these facts, experts at the National Sleep Foundation assert that getting 8 hours of sleep for adults and 8 to 9 hours for teenagers is desirable. Moreover, children usually need more sleep than adults, so specialists have estimated that kids between 3 to 5 years need 11 to 13 hours of sleep while children from 6 and up to 12 years need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep. A more detailed table published by the National Sleep Foundation allocating the number of hours needed for each age group can be found by clicking here.

More and more investigation studies conducted by sleep researchers and scientists have been revealed to confirm that deficient sleep causes health problems typically associated with hypertension, diabetes and weight gain, as well as neurobehavioral impairments (having the same effects as drinking alcohol); daytime drowsiness; irritability; apathy; moodiness; impaired memory; microsleeps (lasting from 5 to 10 seconds); stress; anxiety; increases in accidents, injuries and behavioral problems; deficiencies in the immune system; reduced concentration, learning and productivity; reduced longevity, reaction times and hypnagogic hallucinations (experienced between wakefulness and sleep), all of which are typical signs related to inadequate sleep. This means that depriving ourselves from sleep will not make the cut if we are to remain fully alert, creative, energetic and in a good mood during the normal course of our daily activities.

People are oftentimes motivated to spend less time sleeping and more time working, but they need to recharge their batteries during the night so that they can think more clearly during daytime. The problem is most individuals feel like they can’t afford what they believe to be the ‘luxury’ of spending so much time sleeping, yet the key lies precisely in that sleep is not a luxury but a necessity, or put in other terms is not an option but an actual need much in the same measure like diet and exercise are. Although individuals may condition their bodies to sleep only a few hours a day through their internal biological clock, the outcomes in the long term will negatively affect different aspects of a person’s life. For this reason, and because sleep seems to be required for survival, getting a good night sleep can mean the difference between performing well and falling asleep while at school or work.

When we scrimp on the amount of sleep we need, even if we only cut an hour, we develop a “sleep debt,” which is defined as the “accumulated sleep that is lost to poor sleep habits, sickness, awakenings due to environmental factors or other causes.” Now, if that sleep debt becomes too large, it can lead to sleepiness during the times at which we should be awake and alert, and even if we don’t feel sleepy, the product of the sleep debt will inevitably get in the way of our every day doings and our ability to function. In addition, sleep researchers confirm that individuals can’t regain sleep lost throughout the week by increasing the amount of sleep hours on the weekends; doing this will only interrupt our sleeping patterns and our body’s circadian rhythm, which is an internal 24-hour cycle that takes place in the organism to control different physiological processes and functions.

Furthermore, the circadian rhythm is influenced by daylight in such a way that we naturally tend to get sleepy at night when it’s dark and are energetic during the day when there’s light. Since our body’s functions change during day and nighttime, the circadian rhythm regulates them by ensuring the appropriate levels of each occur at the times they are supposed to. Brain tissue regenerates and memory is consolidated during night sleep, which makes developing an adequate sleeping routine extremely important.

To enhance our sleeping habits it helps to maintain standard sleep and wake schedules so that our bodies can become used to a regular waking and bedtime. In addition, avoiding alcoholic and caffeinated beverages, and heavy meals before sleep and during the day as well as eliminating cigarettes near bedtime or during the night, getting regular exercise and improving on the control of the sleep environment such as light, noise, temperature, pets, sleeping surface and sleeping partners can all help in standardizing sleep in a way that ensures we’re getting enough of it for optimal performance. Even though the exact reasons for sleep remain a mystery, many of the body’s major organs and systems continue to work actively during sleep, which makes this process so important for our minds and bodies. The sleeping brain is not a resting brain and the range of activities of it is central in regulating physical functions, revitalizing the body, and enhancing thought processes when awake, so that third of our lives that we should spend sleeping has a dramatic effect on the other two thirds.

As a shift worker, my brother used to be forced to sleep during the day while both the activities taking place around him and his circadian rhythm hinted at being awake. Although he was only on such schedule for 2 months, his body developed poor sleeping habits that remained long after he went back to working regular daytime hours and that still stay put to this day. What began as a “perfect excuse” to stay awake during the night has now become his new lifestyle. He is a smoker who gets very little if any sleep. He works only 4 days a week out of which 3 of them are 12-hour shifts. He leaves at 9:45am and gets back at around 11:15pm, but he doesn’t go to bed until 5 or 6 in the morning. He only gets a couple hours sleep for most of the week except for his days off when we have to wake him up at around 2pm for lunch.

He is moody most of the times and extremely irritable; to the point where any and every single subject has become a taboo topic to talk about around him since he gets aggressive and angry no matter what’s being said or how. He also tends to eat once or twice during the night but unlike the characteristic signs of most common sleep disorders, he hasn’t gained any weight whatsoever. He seems to forget that there are other people living around him as he speaks loud on the phone at 4am in the morning, as though it was completely normal, while interrupting my sleep. Sometimes he blasts the speakers with resounding music when everything else is silent and everyone else is trying to rest. He drinks lots of water and simply has a completely upside down routine that not only is affecting him but also affecting those around him to some extent.

I don’t know if any or all of the previous signs mean that my brother has some kind of sleep disorder, but it looks to me like he does. My parents insist to him on going to bed earlier and normalizing his schedule but he says he isn’t sleepy when the night falls, but of course he isn’t if he sleeps during the day.

Remember that sleep is one of life’s most basic activities and a necessity for the normal functioning of individuals “without which the body cannot make do for very long any more than it can without food or water. Deprived, it will suffer; and, in its efforts to restore the homeostatic balance of sleep and waking, it will make its demands imperative!” Sleep matters; so take time for it.

Image by: Hilary Quinn @ Stock.Xchng

 
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Posted by on February 25, 2007 in biology, brain, disease, dreams, health, sleep

 

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