Sleep Disorders and Sleep Deprivation
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Sleep Disorders, Apnea, and Sleep Deprivation
Think of everything you do during your day. Try to guess which activity is so important you should devote one-third of your time to doing it. Many people view sleep as merely a “down time” when their brain shuts off and their body rests. But research reveals that a number of vital tasks carried out during sleep help to maintain good health and enable people to function at their best.
Sleep was long considered just a uniform block of time when you are not awake. Thanks to sleep studies done over the past several decades, it is now known that sleep has distinct stages that cycle throughout the night in predictable patterns. How well rested you are and how well you function depend not just on your total sleep time but on how much of the various stages of sleep you get each night.
Your brain stays active throughout sleep, and each stage of sleep is linked to a distinctive pattern of electrical activity known as brain waves.
Although you may put off going to sleep in order to squeeze more activities into your day, eventually your need for sleep becomes overwhelming and you are forced to get some sleep. This daily drive for sleep appears to be due, in part, to a compound known as adenosine. This natural chemical builds up in your blood as time awake increases. While you sleep, your body breaks down the adenosine. Thus, this molecule may be what your body uses to keep track of lost sleep and to trigger sleep when needed. An accumulation of adenosine and other factors might explain why, after several nights of less than optimal amounts of sleep, you build up a sleep debt that you must make up by sleeping longer than normal. Because of such built-in molecular feedback, you can’t adapt to getting less sleep than your body needs. Eventually, a lack of sleep catches up with you.
Students who have trouble grasping new information or learning new skills are often advised to “sleep on it,” and that advice seems well founded. Recent studies reveal that people can learn a task better if they are well rested. They also can remember better what they learned if they get a good night’s sleep after learning the task than if they are sleep deprived. Volunteers had to sleep at least 6 hours to show improvement in learning, and the amount of improvement was directly tied to how much time they slept. In other words, volunteers who slept 8 hours outperformed those who slept only 6 or 7 hours. Other studies suggest that all the benefits of training for mentally challenging tasks are maximized after a good night’s sleep, rather than immediately following the training or after sleeping for a short period overnight.
Even if you don’t have a mentally or physically challenging day ahead of you, you should still get enough sleep to put yourself in a good mood. Most people report being irritable, if not downright unhappy, when they lack sleep. People who chronically suffer from a lack of sleep, either because they do not spend enough time in bed or because they have an untreated sleep disorder, are at greater risk of developing depression. One group of people who usually don’t get enough sleep is mothers of newborns. Some experts think depression after childbirth (postpartum blues) is caused, in part, by a lack of sleep.
Sleep gives your heart and vascular system a much-needed rest. During non-REM sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure progressively slow as you enter deeper sleep. During REM sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure have boosted spikes of activity. Overall, however, sleep reduces your heart rate and blood pressure by about 10 percent.
When you were young, your mother may have told you that you need to get enough sleep to grow strong and tall. She may have been right! Deep sleep triggers more release of growth hormone, which fuels growth in children and boosts muscle mass and the repair of cells and tissues in children and adults. Sleep’s effect on the release of sex hormones also encourages puberty and fertility. Consequently, women who work at night and tend to lack sleep are, therefore, more likely to have trouble conceiving or to miscarry.
When healthy adults are given unlimited opportunity to sleep, they sleep on average between 8 and 8.5 hours a night. But sleep needs vary from person to person. Some people appear to need only about 7 hours to avoid problem sleepiness whereas others need 9 or more hours of sleep. Sleep needs also change throughout the lifecycle. Newborns sleep between 16 and 18 hours a day, and children in preschool sleep between 10 and 12 hours a day. School aged children and adolescents need at least 9 hours of sleep a night.
At various points in our lives, all of us suffer from a lack of sleep that can be remedied by making sure we have the opportunity to get enough sleep. But, if you are spending enough time in bed and still wake up tired or feel very sleepy during the day, you may have a sleep disorder.
For More Information on Sleep Disorders