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Sleeping, next to breathing, is probably one of the most important functions in your life.  You will probably spend more than one-third of your life asleep.  That may seem a bit excessive to you but it’s all for a very good cause.  In fact, sleep is so essential in order to have a healthy mind and body.  If you experience any type sleep disorders you will not only put your health at risk but it could actually shorten your lifespan.

How much sleep is necessary?

The amount of sleep necessary can vary among different age groups.  When a healthy adult’s sleep is monitored unrestricted they will sleep on average between 8 and 8.5 hours.  Of course these are only averages because some people will require a little more and some a bit less sleep to avoid feeling sleep deprived during daytime hours.  Newborns for example may sleep 16 or more hours a day while preschool children will do just fine with only 10 hours of sleep.

As you get older chance are you will sleep less due mostly to medications and illnesses.  Other things that may disrupt your sleep as you age are sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and frequent urination.  Your biological clock shifts as you get up in age, which means you will probably go to bed and get up earlier.  However, there is no evidence to support that the older you get the less sleep you will need.

What are the benefits of getting enough sleep?

If you want a healthier you then the you’ll not only need to get the right amount of sleep but will also have to improve the quality of your sleep.  When you sleep your body’s metabolism, breathing rate and heartbeat slows down which helps to restore the body after a day of physical activity.  Hormones are released that helps in the growth of your body’s tissue, bones and red blood cells.  Your immune system is strengthening so you can better fight off infectious diseases.

Other benefits of getting the proper amount of sleep are being able to wake up without the need of an alarm clock, waking up feeling refreshed and energized, eliminating your dependence on caffeinated drinks for energy, eliminating sleep disorders such as sleep apnea and snoring, remaining alert throughout waking hours, less mental and psychological stress, lowering blood pressure as well as feeling and looking more radiant.

What is the downfall of sleep deprivation?

Not getting enough sleep for a day or two is not detrimental to your health but if this pattern continues over time it can have many negative repercussions.  Being sleep deprived makes you irritable, cranky and aggressive.  It also can impair your judgment and your ability to make quick decisions.  Sleep deprivation also causes your immune system to be weakened, it increases your likelihood of causing accidents and injuries, makes you less poor less productive, exacerbates medical problems, makes you more susceptible to depression and emotional problems, and increases the likelihood that you’ll gain weight.

What are the two main types of sleep?

There is REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and Non-REM sleep.  REM sleep is characterized by the rapid moving of your eyes back and forth while you sleep.  REM sleep occurs within a couple hours after falling asleep, your blood rate and blood pressure drop and your breathing is shallow. This type of sleep is when your dreaming takes place.  Non-REM sleep has four stages and each stage takes you deeper into your sleep than the previous stage.

What are the four stages of Non-REM Sleep?

Stage 1 is where you transition into a light sleep.  You may drift in and out of sleep and are usually awakened without much effort.  This stage usually lasts five to ten minutes and your eyes move slowly and muscle activity under your eyes also slows down.

Stage 2 is when your eye movement comes to a halt, your brain waves and heart rate slows as your body begins to get its first taste of true sleep.  This stage usually lasts 15 to 30 minutes.

Stage 3 is known as deep sleep where your brain waves are really slow.  These waves are known as delta waves.  You’re not easily awakened from sleep in this stage and if you are you’ll probably feel a bit disoriented for a few minutes.

Stage 4 is the a more intense deep sleep where the brain will almost produce delta waves exclusively.  In this stage most of your body’s restoration takes place where blood flow is directed more towards the muscles instead of the brain.  Sleepwalking is often experienced while in this stage.

What’s the difference between REM Sleep and Deep Sleep?

Deep sleep helps repair your body while REM sleep renews your mind. Deep sleep is responsible for helping your body grow and develop, repairing muscles and tissues and strengthening your immune system.  REM has to do a lot with improving your memory and learning.  Your brain needs a way to process the information that you took in during the day and REM sleep is where this occurs.  The chemical hormones serotonin and dopamine are also released during the REM stage, which helps to elevate your mood during waking hours.

Tips for paying off sleep debt?

Sleep debt is the cumulative effect that takes place when your body fails to get the proper amount of sleep.  A huge sleep debt that is not remedied will affect your overall physical and mental health.

If you find yourself deficit in sleep then strive to get at least 8 hours of consistent sleep so you don’t fall further into debt.  It may be a good idea to block off the hours when you plan to sleep and stick to those hours.

Another tip for erasing sleep debt is to pay it back in small installments.  Go to bed or get up an hour later until you’ve paid back all the lost sleep.  Also, consider going on a sleep vacation where you go away for a couple of weeks and sleep until you naturally wake up.  This means no alarm clocks are allowed.  A one week vacation should be enough but if you can stand two weeks that’s even better.  During this time when you wake up and go to bed at the same time, you’ll know that your sleep debt has been repaid.

When you make sleeping a priority chances are you will minimize your chances of experiencing sleep disorders.  When you place sleep at the very top of your do list you will not only be more productive during the day but you will also look and feel better.