Importance of Sleep – 6 Reasons Why You Need Enough Rest


Sleep is an often overlooked essential for optimal health and well-being. Yet millions of people do not get enough sleep and many suffer from lack of sleep. The results of recent surveys reveal that at least 40 million Americans suffer from over 70 different sleep disorders and 60 percent of adults report having sleep problems a few nights a week or more. Most of those with these problems go undiagnosed and untreated.

In addition, more than 40 percent of adults experience daytime sleepiness severe enough to interfere with their daily activities at least a few days each week.

What Are The Signs of Excessive Sleepiness? 
Irritability and moodiness are some of the first signs a person experiences from lack of sleep. If a sleep-deprived person doesn’t sleep after the initial signs, the person may then start to experience apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to be creative or multitask.

Amount of Sleep Needed 
Everyone’s individual sleep needs vary. In general, most healthy adults are built for 16 hours of wakefulness and need an average of eight hours of sleep a night. However, some individuals are able to function without sleepiness or drowsiness after as little as six hours of sleep. Others can’t perform at their peak unless they’ve slept ten hours. Contrary to common myth, the need for sleep doesn’t decline with age but the ability to sleep for six to eight hours at one time may be reduced.

What Causes Sleep Problems? 
Psychologists and other scientists who study the causes of sleep disorders have found that such problems can directly or indirectly be tied to abnormalities in various systems, such as:
Physiological systems

  • Brain and nervous system
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Metabolic functions
  • Immune system

Furthermore, unhealthy conditions, disorders and diseases can also cause sleep problems. These can include:

  • Pathological sleepiness, insomnia and accidents
  • Hypertension and elevated cardiovascular risks (MI, stroke)
  • Emotional disorders (depression, bipolar disorder)
  • Obesity; metabolic syndrome and diabetes
  • Alcohol and drug abuse

Groups that are at particular risk for sleep deprivation include night shift workers, physicians (average sleep = 6.5 hours a day; residents = 5 hours a day), truck drivers, parents and teenagers.

How Environment & Behavior Affect A Person’s Sleep
Stress is the number one cause of short-term sleeping difficulties, according to sleep experts. Common triggers include school or job-related pressures, a family or marriage problem and a serious illness or death in the family. Usually the sleep problem disappears when the stressful situation passes. However, if short-term sleep problems such as insomnia aren’t managed properly from the beginning, they can persist long after the original stress has passed.

Drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine in the afternoon or evening, exercising close to bedtime, following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, and working or doing other mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed can disrupt sleep. Traveling also disrupts sleep, especially jet lag and traveling across several time zones. This can upset your biological or “circadian” rhythms.

Environmental factors such as a room that’s too hot or cold, too noisy or too brightly lit can be a barrier to sound sleep. Interruptions from children or other family members can also disrupt sleep. Other influences to pay attention to are the comfort and size of your bed and the habits of your sleep partner. If you have to lie beside someone who has different sleep preferences, snores, can’t fall or stay asleep, or has other sleep difficulties, it often becomes your problem too!

Health Problems & Sleep Disorders 
A number of physical problems can interfere with your ability to fall or stay asleep. For example, arthritis and other conditions that cause pain, backache, or discomfort can make it difficult to sleep well. For women, pregnancy and hormonal shifts including those that cause premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or menopause and its accompanying hot flashes can also intrude on sleep.

Finally, certain medications such as decongestants, steroids and some medicines for high blood pressure, asthma, or depression can cause sleeping difficulties as a side effect.
It is a good idea to talk to a physician or mental health provider about any sleeping problem that recurs or persists for longer than a few weeks.

Six Reasons To Get Enough Sleep

  1. Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who’d slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
  2. Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.
  3. Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
  4. Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
  5. Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
  6. Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body’s killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

Sleep Is Important To Training Performance Gains
You and your training partner carefully measure the optimal protein intake for the “max” in muscle growth response. You both take the exact same anabolic state-of-the-art supplements and follow the same “perfect” workout dictated by your aggressive, but prominent personal trainer. Your partner’s gains are what you’d hoped for. So what went wrong? Deep sleep patterns may mean the difference between big anabolic gains and none at all! Both bodily repair and anabolic growth occur only during quality rest, and when deep sleep patterns become routine.

How long can a person go without any sleep? Based on small animal studies in which the subjects have been exposed to extreme sleep deprivation, scientists have estimated that the average human may not live past 10 days without sleep. Not as clear, however, are the exact physiological mechanisms resulting from sleep deprivation that ultimately lead to death.

While lack of sleep can have dire consequences, adequate sleep provides only positive, healthful benefits. In a typical day, a person’s waking hours are consumed trying to meet the many mental and physical demands encountered at every turn, as well as replenishing vital nutrients as they are being used up during these daily activities. In the hours remaining during sleep, the body takes time out to rebuild and recharge, preparing for the day ahead.

Recuperation During Sleep Is Related To A Sensitive Built-In Biological Clock
Electrical activity measured in the brain during sleep indicates that healthful physiological changes occur in 90-minute periods throughout the night, which means that the active biological clock in a person is set to operate in a circadian rhythm of 90-minute cycles that repeats every 25 to 28 hours. This clock is set and reset according to the amount of natural daylight available each day, thus evening sleep begins later in summer than in winter.

Losing sleep during any 24 or 48 hour period interferes with the essential and healthful cycle of physiological changes that occur during sleep and is detrimental to both physical and mental recovery. Recovery in subjects deprived of sleep for 24 hours has been measured at 72%, while recovery after a 48-hour period without sleep further deteriorated to a level of only 42%.

Other clock-like rhythms occur between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. and from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., when our body temperature dips a degree or two and drowsiness results. We have all experienced this mid or late afternoon slump. In contrast, when body temperature peaks between 6:00 and 9:00p.m., we may become aware of a heightened sense of alertness. Then, as we tend to wind down from our daily activities sometime after 9:00 p.m., our body temperature falls again, and we are lulled into a state of drowsiness during which the brain converts low-voltage “beta” waves into higher voltage “alpha” waves.

As these alpha waves are, in turn, converted to slower “theta” waves during what are known as sleep stages 1 and 2, the skeletal muscles relax, causing the “hypnotic jerk” or “nodding” experience. When nodding off is not resisted or interrupted, the theta waves soon turn into even slower “delta” waves of the third and fourth stages of deeper sleep. During these stages, rapid-eye-movement {REM} sleep, dreams, and actual muscle paralysis take place. If, for some reason, muscle paralysis does not occur, the vividness of the dream state will physically draw the dreamer into an active state of sleepwalking or, worse yet, intense physical activity that will further break down exhausted muscle tissues already in need of repair.

During undisturbed sleep or slow-wave sleep, the plasma growth hormone (human growth hormone – somatropin) in humans is found to be at its highest levels. If the sleep stage process is interrupted, complete repair of soft tissues is impossible due to the resulting decrease or absence of human growth hormone – somatropin – .

Quiet Please – My Muscles Are Rebuilding!
Noise pollution has been shown to have a dramatic effect on a person’s optimal sleep. Aircraft noise endured by those living in homes near airports can reach a level of 55 to 75 decibels inside the homes. Significant noise such as this has been observed to raise the adrenaline and noradrenaline levels of all those sampled during sleep, an effect which is detrimental to achieving normal, healthy, recuperative sleep.

Exposure to high levels of noise during the day can also interfere with getting a sound night’s sleep. Daytime noise pollution of 80 decibels or more tends to elevate both heart and respiration rates, which may further disrupt full-stage, recuperative sleep.

Balancing Macronutrient Intake With A Precise Ratio of Micronutrients
Another component of ensuring a good night’s sleep is to maintain a balanced ratio of macro- and micronutrients. What we eat and drink has a remarkable influence upon our sleep. Relatively small amounts of alcohol, as little as 0.8 grams per kilogram body weight, will suppress plasma growth hormone values as much as 75% when consumed just prior to sleep.

The bottom line is that when sleep is altered (reduced or extended), performance and mood are both affected. Altered sleep time by delaying, extending, or advancing each phase of slumber by a 3-hour time span. Achieving that elusive perfect night’s sleep, then, would seem to depend upon enjoying a low-key day in a stress-free environment followed by seeking sleep at a routine time in a quiet, totally dark room.

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About Author

Dr. Richard A. DiCenso

Published author, international speaker, and complementary care expert, Dr. Richard A. DiCenso has over 30 years experience in treating the chronic symptoms of Vicious Cycle disorders (VCD). With his extensive experience in "Whole Person Therapy", he is the leading authority in Biological Fluid Analysis. See my profile page for more information!

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