Sleep is essential for health and well-being, however many adults aren’t getting enough of it. At least 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders. Over 60% of adults report having trouble sleeping at least a few nights a week, but most of these problems go undiagnosed and untreated. The amount of sleep varies from person to person, but the average adult needs about eight hours of sleep to function best. Some adults need as little as six or even fewer hours, but others may need ten hours of sleep or more per night. While there’s a common myth that we need less sleep as we age, and it is true that adults need less sleep than children, elderly adults need just as much sleep as adults in other age groups, though their ability to get six to ten hours of sleep each night may be diminished.
So we know that most adults aren’t getting as much sleep as they need each night, but why does sleep matter in the first place? Let’s find out just how important sleep is to us.
Sufficient sleep is essential for your physical health. A continuous lack of sleep is linked with stroke and chronic health problems like heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Sleep allows our bodies to repair themselves after all kinds of damage, from normal daily wear and tear to a simple cold or serious illnesses, and is essential for an optimally functioning immune system. Those suffering from a lack of sleep may have trouble fighting common bacterial and viral infections.
Sleep also helps you to keep a healthy hormone balance. People suffering from a lack of sleep overproduce the hormone that leads to feelings of hunger (ghrelin) and underproduce the hormone that makes you feel full (leptin). Sleep impacts the way your body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar levels, leading those who aren’t getting enough sleep to have higher than normal blood sugar levels, which is linked to an increased risk of diabetes. For children and teens, deep sleep is necessary for the correct production of the growth hormones that lead to natural and healthy puberty processes and allow for healing from the stress that puberty can put on the body.
Sleep is also important for proper brain function because just like your body heals, rests, and prepares for the next day while you sleep, so does your brain. During sleep, your brain forms pathways and connections to help you learn and retain information, moving information from short term to long term memory. After a full night of sleep, your ability to learn and problem-solve is improved.
Sleep also improves attentiveness, decision making, and creativity. In addition, insufficient or low quality sleep can severely impact productivity throughout the day, especially at work or school. Those operating on a lack of sleep are more likely to make mistakes, have suppressed reaction times, and take more time to complete tasks. Children and teens in particular may have problems paying attention and be prone to falling asleep in class. These problems, coupled with a reduced ability to learn and retain information, can lead to lower grades.
Inadequate sleep (as little as one or two hours less than you need for a few nights in a row) can also lead to microsleep, brief moments of sleep that happen when you’re typically awake. Your brain puts itself to sleep in order to get the rest that it didn’t get during the night, and you can’t control it. Microsleep can be problematic, such as by causing you to miss information or not really understand a lecture, but it can also be dangerous. For example, tired drivers don’t typically feel impaired, but research suggests that a lack of rest impairs your ability to drive just as much or more than being intoxicated.
Reduced cognitive performance can affect anyone, including health care professionals, pilots, lawyers, mechanics, assembly line workers, and construction workers, leading to problems for not only the person lacking sleep, but potentially also every person affected by their work. Inadequate sleep is known to have led to people making mistakes leading to catastrophic accidents, such as nuclear reactor meltdowns, aviation accidents, and the grounding of ships.
If you’ve ever gone without enough sleep before, you probably know that a sleep deficit can make it difficult to control your emotions, but the problems extend even further. Sleep deficiency can make it difficult to deal with change and can lead to reduced impulse control. It has even been linked to depression, suicide, and high-risk behavior.
For children and teens, sleep issues can cause difficulties in getting along with others, leading to social problems and isolation. Children and teens may experience mood swings, overwhelming feelings of anger and impulsiveness, sadness or depression, or a lack of motivation. Trouble focusing at school and the corresponding lower grades can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety from the student and their parents.
What to Do if You Have Sleep Problems
If you have chronic sleep troubles that don’t seem to be going away no matter what you do, you don’t have to live with them. Don’t be one of the millions of adults struggling with untreated sleep problems. Contact our offices today to schedule your consultation with Dr. Shukla.