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How Much Sleep Do You Need?

by Jeff Dailey
Why Sleep affects your Health

How Much Sleep Do You Need?

SleepWe often consider sleep as simply a way to rest and recover from a hard day; however, it is vital to our overall health. Sleep plays a key role in maintaining mood, memory and mental performance. Everyone has failed to get a good nights sleep and awoken cranky, moody and feeling mentally drained, but sleep does more than make you feel good. Sleep also helps regulate your hormone system (also called endocrine system) and immune system.
What happens to my body if I do not get enough sleep?
Failing to get enough sleep does not just make you irritable. It can lower mental performance, alertness, judgment, reaction time and memory. One study involving people with sleep apnea found that they did as badly or worse on reaction time tests as people with blood alcohol levels over the states legal intoxication limit.
In recent years research has focused on the impact of sleep disorders on the hormone and immune systems. Sleep loss may contribute to diseases like obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure.
How much sleep do I need a night?
Before the light bulb was invented, people slept an average of 10 hours a night. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans now sleep an average of about 7 hours a night on weeknights and 7.5 hours a night on weekends.
Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. Do you know how much sleep you need?

Age Group Daily Sleep Time
(including naps)
0 to 2 months 10.5 to 18.5 hours
2 to 12 months 14 to 15 hours
12 to 18 months 13 to 15 hours
18 months to 3 years 12 to 14 hours
3 to 5 years 11 to 13 hours
5 to 12 years 9 to 11 hours
13 to 19 years 8.5 to 9.5 hours
Adults 7 to 9 hours

What are the sleep stages?
Not all sleep is created equal. Sleep is broken down into very different stages. There are two general types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (non-REM). Sleep follows a distinct pattern, which is as follows.

  1. Non-REM Sleep

    • Stage 1 – In this stage you transition from being awake to falling asleep. You become very drowsy and start to drift off to sleep.
    • Stage 2 – This is a very light stage of sleep. About 50% of adult sleep is in this stage.
    • Stage 3 & 4 – This is a deeper sleep. Your breathing slows and blood pressure lowers. It becomes very difficult to awaken you during these stages. If you are suddenly awoken, you may not know where you are or feel disorientated.
  2. REM Sleep – REM sleep follows the four stages of non-REM sleep. Significant brain activity occurs in this stage. Your heart rate and blood pressure rise, breathing increases and eye movement becomes rapid. This is when dreams occur.

This cycle from non-REM sleep to REM sleep will repeat four to six times per night. Regular awakenings in the night due to sleep disorders, having to go to the bathroom or other medical conditions can interrupt this cycle. Remember, the quality of sleep is as important as quantity.
Are sleep disorders common?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, about 7 in 10 Americans report frequent sleep problems, but only 1 in 8 say they have been diagnosed by a physician. We often dismiss sleep problems or treat them as trivial conditions; they are not. Sleep problems should be considered serious medical conditions on par with high blood pressure or diabetes. If you think you may have a sleep problem, seek your physician’s advice.

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