Suppose someone taking a survey asked you, “Do you get enough sleep?” How would you answer? The answer to this depends on knowing the answers to two other questions: “How much sleep do you get?” and “How much sleep do you need?”
For most of us that means how long do we sleep in bed at night? That is, minus interruptions. New parents know all about this, waking up to check on the wee one, responding to a cry or a whimper in the dark, taking time to feed, change, or rock the newest member of the family. But most of us sleep through hours at a time with little or no interruption.
For some others, this includes a nap or two taken during the day. This may include a new mother or father compensating for nighttime interruptions. It could include a rotating shift worker trying to reset his body clock on days off. Sometimes it is a bored stay-at-home person, or an older adult whose body no longer tolerates lying down very long at one time.
The simplest answer is, “That all depends.” How much sleep is needed depends on a few factors, such as developmental stage, age, sex, physical condition, and health. It may also be affected by the demands of ones occupation. It may surprise many to learn that more rest may be necessary for non-physical work requiring alertness and a sharp mind than for physically demanding jobs.
It is common knowledge that babies sleep a lot. A newborn is asleep for more time than awake. By the time an infant is a year old, this balance is even or reversed, but a large part of the day is still spent sleeping. Kindergarten used to be known for the naptimes when the entire class lay on their mats. By the time a child is in the grades, all the school day is waking hours. The average time needed for sleep lessens as one approaches adulthood, where it levels off for the last two-thirds of a person’s expected lifetime. But in the senior years, it does shrink by about an hour.
I was surprised to learn how prevalent sleep deprivation is. Study after study shows that a significant percentage of people own up to dozing in meetings, glazing over while working, and driving while drowsy, some of the common signs of not enough sleep. This and statistics underscore the importance of adequate sleep. Lack of sleep causes accidents on the road, in the shop and at home. Quality of products depends on engineers, technicians, operators and inspectors being alert. How many costly recalls are due to sleep deprivation? How much lost business? How many injuries and loss of life? Sleep deprivation has economic and social costs.
Most youth enter adolescence during their teenage years. The hormonal changes include the circadian rhythm, the cycle of wakefulness and sleep. The adolescents naturally stay awake later (such as until 11 PM) and naturally wake up later. Studies show that they need, on the average, 8½ to 9½ hours of sleep a night. This includes a long deep-sleep (slow-wave) cycle in addition to the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle.
Statistics show that sleep deprived high school students have more traffic accidents, doze more in class, and have lower scores on tests. One contributing factor in teen sleep deprivation is early school hours. High school students do better overall when school begins at 8:30 AM or later (the “ten-o-clock scholar” in the nursery rhyme).
Class schedules are not the only culprit in teens’ lack of sleep. Others include extracurricular school activities, non-school activities, and modern technology. Some of the observations made by organizations and professionals include keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom and allowing non-structured social time within accepted waking hours. Also recommended is encouraging and promoting physical activity each day. Of course, it is easier to motivate a teen to get more sleep when we set the example.
Several organizations have recommended hours of sleep for childrenn, youth and adults. The National Sleep Foundation, which Beds.org is a member of, has used decades of sleep research to make a chart of recommended hours of sleep per night for nine age groups: Newborn (0-3 month), Infant (4-11 months), Toddler (1-2 years), Pre-school (3-5 years), School age (6-13 years), Teenage (14-17 years), Young adult (18-25 years), Adult (26-64 years), and Older adult (65 years and older). In each of these categories, the recommendation is a range of hours per day, from 14-17 hours for a newborn to 7-8 hours for an older adult. Outside each recommended range is a range of acceptable hours, from 11-19 to 5-9.
The ranges of hours of sleep are based on the needs of members of each age group. However, we are individuals, and our need of sleep does differ from one person to another. The same studies leading to these recommendations also show that some individuals require more or less sleep than the hours in the range for their age group. When considering our own needs, it can be hard to be objective, so it is wise to listen to other’s observations, such as, “You’ve been more irritable lately,” and “You’re nodding off.”
How much sleep we need involves not only the number of hours, but the quality of sleep itself. Our health status affects how long and how well we sleep. So do our activities and what and when we eat.
Another factor in how well and how long we sleep is what we wear. Even in a climate-controlled house, this can be a seasonal issue. We want to be warm enough in the winter and not too warm in the summer. Also, of course, irritating and ill-fitting nightclothes would interfere with sleep.
Another major factor is the bed. In this case, each one of us is a Goldilocks. Is the mattress too hard, too soft or just right? Mattresses are available from ultra firm to ultra plush and the range between. Do we prefer to lie on or in the bed? This could be the difference between memory foam and latex. Does a partner’s snoring or motion keep you awake? Motion isolation will eliminate partner movement disturbance. Is the bed too small? The next size up helps. Can you find the optimal position? Here’s where adjustable beds come in, and some of them deal with the snoring issue too. With so many choices, it pays to know what you yourself need and look for a mattress and bed that meet those needs.
National Sleep Foundation <http://sleepfoundation.org/how-sleep-works/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need>
Center for Disease Control <http://www.cdc.gov/features/dssleep/>
Huffington Post <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/20/get-enough-sleep_n_4475645.html>
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