We are a sleep-deprived society. It’s true: Whether it be staying up late to study for a test, to finish a work project, party, to catch up on your favorite TV show, or even just scroll through Facebook; we’ll sacrifice sleep just to “live our lives” a little longer each day. The National Institutes of Health recommends that school-age children get at least 10 hours of sleep daily, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults 7-8 per night. However, more than half of Americans of all ages only get a fraction of this recommended amount. According to Google, Americans get an average of 6.8 hours of sleep per night.
When we sleep, we pass through 5 levels of sleep. It begins with lighter sleep then gradually transitions deeper into the later stages of sleep where our brain waves, eye and muscle movement, and overall activity slow down significantly. When we are awoken during stages 3 and 4, we feel groggy and disoriented. In the last phase, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, our dreams occur and our body, brain activity, vitals (blood pressure, respiratory and heart rate) increase to levels similar to that during the waking state. Studies show that lack of REM sleep can impair the ability to learn complex tasks, which indicates REM sleep as a vital component of our sleep patterns, especially in early development when sleep makes up a majority of total sleep.
It remains unknown how sleep physiologically benefits the body. Until this day, we still do not fully understand why we need sleep. What we do know is that not enough sleep is bad. Sleep specialists state that we need at least 7 hours of sleep each night. Any less than this, especially in consecutive nights, our body and minds decline. Total sleep deprivation can cause hampering of bodily systems, leading to hypertension, profound decrease in immune system function, heart disease, weight gain, and depression. Sleep deprivation not only causes physical impairments, but it can lead to cognitive dysfunction: memory loss, hallucinations, and difficulty concentrating. (This may explain why pulling an “all nighter” before a test is not such a good idea).
Ultimately, sleep deprivation can lead to significant decrease in quality of life and production, so make sure to get enough sleep each night to maximize your time spent awake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides the following tips to help improve the amount and quality of sleep:
Go to bed at the same time each night and rise at the same time each morning.
Avoid large meals before bedtime.
Avoid caffeine and alcohol close to bedtime.
Davis, Jeanie. The Toll of Sleep Loss in America. WebMD Feature. November 29, 2011
Maxon, Seth. How Sleep Deprivation Decays the Mind and Body. The Atlantic. December 30, 2013
How Sleep Works.