The Benefits of a Good Nights Sleep

Understanding how lack of sleep affects your health can allow you to make healthier decisions for you and your family. The following pages share information about sleep disorders and how lack of sleep can affect the health of someone living with a chronic disease. You can find out how much sleep is recommended for different age groups and read tips on how to improve the quality of your sleep. This section ends with recommendations on what to do if you are still having trouble sleeping.

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How much sleep you need changes as you age.

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

Age Group

Recommended Hours of Sleep Per Day

Newborn

0–3 months

14–17 hours (National Sleep Foundation)
No recommendation (American Academy of Sleep Medicine)

Infant

4–12 months

12–16 hours per 24 hours (including naps)

Toddler

1–2 years

11–14 hours per 24 hours (including naps)

Preschool

3–5 years

10–13 hours per 24 hours (including naps)

School Age

6–12 years

9–12 hours per 24 hours

Teen

13–18 years

8–10 hours per 24 hours

Adult

18–60 years

7 or more hours per night

61–64 years

7–9 hours

65 years and older

7–8 hours

Although the amount of sleep you get each day is important, other aspects of your sleep also contribute to your health and well-being. Good sleep quality is also essential. Signs of poor sleep quality include not feeling rested even after getting enough sleep, repeatedly waking up during the night, and experiencing symptoms of sleep disorders (such as snoring or gasping for air). Improving sleep quality may be helped by better sleep habits or being diagnosed and treated for any sleep disorder you may have.  

The Benefits of Sleep

We have so many demands on our time—jobs, family, errands—not to mention finding some time to relax. To fit everything in, we often sacrifice sleep. But sleep affects both mental and physical health. It’s vital to your well-being.

Of course, sleep helps you feel rested each day. But while you’re sleeping, your brain and body don’t just shut down. Internal organs and processes are hard at work throughout the night.

“Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood,” says Dr. Merrill Mitler, a sleep expert and neuroscientist at NIH.

When you’re tired, you can’t function at your best. Sleep helps you think more clearly, have quicker reflexes and focus better. “The fact is, when we look at well-rested people, they’re operating at a different level than people trying to get by on 1 or 2 hours less nightly sleep,” says Mitler.

 

Research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease and infections. Throughout the night, your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure rise and fall, a process that may be important for cardiovascular health. Your body releases hormones during sleep that help repair cells and control the body’s use of energy. These hormone changes can affect your body weight.

“Ongoing research shows a lack of sleep can produce diabetic-like conditions in otherwise healthy people,” says Mitler.

Recent studies also reveal that sleep can affect the efficiency of vaccinations. Twery described research showing that well-rested people who received the flu vaccine developed stronger protection against the illness.

A good night’s sleep consists of 4 to 5 sleep cycles. Each cycle includes periods of deep sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we dream. “As the night goes on, the portion of that cycle that is in REM sleep increases. It turns out that this pattern of cycling and progression is critical to the biology of sleep,” Twery says.

Although personal needs vary, on average, adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Babies typically sleep about 16 hours a day. Young children need at least 10 hours of sleep, while teenagers need at least 9 hours. To attain the maximum restorative benefits of sleep, getting a full night of quality sleep is important, says Twery.

Sleep can be disrupted by many things. Stimulants such as caffeine or certain medications can keep you up. Distractions such as electronics—especially the light from TVs, cell phones, tablets and e-readers—can prevent you from falling asleep.

As people get older, they may not get enough sleep because of illness, medications or sleep disorders. By some estimates, about 70 million Americans of all ages suffer from chronic sleep problems. The 2 most common sleep disorders are insomnia and sleep apnea.

People with insomnia have trouble falling or staying asleep. Anxiety about falling asleep often makes the condition worse. Most of us have occasional insomnia. But chronic insomnia—lasting at least 3 nights per week for more than a month—can trigger serious daytime problems such as exhaustion, irritability and difficulty concentrating.

Common therapies include relaxation and deep-breathing techniques. Sometimes medicine is prescribed. But consult a doctor before trying even over-the-counter sleep pills, as they may leave you feeling unrefreshed in the morning.

 

People with sleep apnea have a loud, uneven snore (although not everyone who snores has apnea). Breathing repeatedly stops or becomes shallow. If you have apnea, you’re not getting enough oxygen, and your brain disturbs your sleep to open your windpipe.

Apnea is dangerous. “There’s little air exchange for 10 seconds or more at a time,” explains Dr. Phyllis Zee, a sleep apnea expert at Northwestern University. “The oxygen goes down and the body’s fight or flight response is activated. Blood pressure spikes, your heart rate fluctuates and the brain wakes you up partially to start your breathing again. This creates stress.”

Apnea can leave you feeling tired and moody. You may have trouble thinking clearly. “Also, apnea affects the vessels that lead to the brain so there is a higher risk of stroke associated with it,” Zee adds.

 

NIH is currently funding several studies to gain deeper insights into sleep apnea and other aspects of sleep. One 5-year study of 10,000 pregnant women is designed to gauge the effects of apnea on the mother’s and baby’s health. Zee says this study will shed more light on apnea and the importance of treatment.Good sleep is critical to your health. To make each day a safe, productive one, take steps to make sure you regularly get a good night’s sleep.

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