Sleep:  Why, When and How?

Sleep: Why, When and How?

July 15, 2020

Sleep is not just the time that our bodies and minds shut down; it is also the time when processing, restoration and strengthening takes place. Scientists continue to study how and why this happens, but they have learned a lot already. One role of sleep is to move information and your experiences from your short-term memory into long-term memory. Studies have shown that after sleep, people execute memory tasks better and have better information recall. Not only is sleep important for brain function, but our bodies also require sleep to help grow, heal and create hormones. Research shows that sleep even allows your body to remove toxins from your brain. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can increase the risk of various disorders such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, depression, and obesity.

Sleep is essential for all ages, but how much sleep is enough? Children require more sleep than adults, probably because they acquire a huge amount of information, skills and growth compared to that of an adult. Children under one year of age typically require 11 to 14 hours of sleep, while school aged children require 9 to 11 hours. Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep, and adults only require 7 to 9 hours per day.

There are two main types of sleep: Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and non-REM sleep. During REM, your eyes move rapidly, brain wave activity occurs, breathing increases, and heart rate and blood pressure are increased. During non-REM sleep your eyes don’t move, and your heartbeat and respirations are more relaxed. Dreaming mostly occurs during REM sleep, but you cycle between the two types and it seems that consolidation of memories requires both types of sleep.

If sleep is so important, how do you make sure you are getting enough? Here are some tips for getting a good night sleep:

  • set a schedule so that sleeping and waking occur at the same time everyday;
  • make sure exercise occurs during the day, at least a few hours before bedtime;
  • avoid alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine for a few hours before bed;
  • relax before bed;
  • create a sleep space where loud sounds and watching TV or other devices are limited;
  • if you can’t sleep, distract yourself with music or reading until you are tired

Interested in learning more? We’ve summarized some of the information in these two articles, but there are even more facts if you follow the links:

  1. Why do we need sleep? National Sleep Foundation.
  2. Brain Basics: Understanding sleep. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
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