The Need for Sleep

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

How important is it to maintain regular sleep times?

In answering your question, it’s important to define what constitutes a good night’s sleep. A good night’s sleep will vary depending on your age, and that will vary to some extent by your individual sleep needs.

Typically, if you are an adult, you need seven to eight hours each night to feel well and be at peak performance during the day. However, the younger you are the more sleep you need. For example, a baby will sleep between twelve and sixteen hours per night and teenagers need from eight to ten hours per night. As already mentioned, there are individual variations among any given population.

I once knew an individual who slept eight to ten hours per night but never felt rested. She went to a sleep clinic and found that her body required ten to twelve hours per night to function properly. That seems like a lot of wasted hours being used on sleep, but that is what her body required. To not get the necessary number of hours of sleep wasted even more hours for her by feeling groggy throughout the day and not working at peak performance.

Without becoming too technical, getting the proper number of hours of sleep helps you live longer. On the cellular level, research has found that not getting enough sleeps causes you to age faster, putting you at a higher risk for a variety health and medical issues. Also, lack of sleep puts at a higher risk for obesity, thus increasing health risks.

Not getting the correct number of hours of sleep for your individual constitution impacts your body’s hormones, which in turn makes it harder to maintain or lose weight. Also, getting enough sleep and feeling rested tends to reduce your caloric intake. When you are fatigued, there is a tendency to try to soothe that tired feeling by eating. Also, when tired, the body produces more of the hormone that stimulates your appetite, which causes you to snack and nibble more.

Along with helping regulate hormones, sleep improves your immune system. Not getting enough sleep and not being properly rested reduces the effectiveness of your immune system. One study exposed research participants to the cold virus. The result of that study found that the participants that did not get proper sleep were three times more likely to develop cold symptoms than those who got the proper amount of sleep during the night.

That sleepy feeling that looks for soothing by eating also reduces your ability to interact socially. Social scientists have found that how well we interact socially is related to our ability to recognize and respond to social cues. Studies have found that sleep deprivation impairs your ability to recognize necessary social cues. Thus, it impacts how well you read other peoples’ social cues. This may be one reason people who do not get enough sleep tend to feel bad about themselves and feel like others think bad about them also.

If you lack discipline, another serious problem is maintaining regular sleeping hours. Many who travel by air across several time zones and back again recognize how it takes several days to re-regulate your sleep to the point that you feel well. This is because it throws off your circadian rhythm or biological clock. Even if you get the right number of hours of sleep for your constitution, you will still feel tired because you will need to reset your biological clock.

In the far-north, with long summer days, it has been my observation that people become sleep deprived and jet lagged due to trying to use up all those long evening hours. And people who work rotating shifts, or those who are poorly disciplined, live in a state of jet lag. Since sleep is so important, there are some things you can do to improve sleep hygiene:

•Determine how much sleep you actually need to feel well rested and discipline yourself to go to bed at a set time no matter how high the sun is in the sky.

•Try to go to bed at the same time every night.

•Get up at the same time every morning.

•If falling asleep is an issue, consider reducing your intake of caffeine in the afternoon and evening.

•Eat your evening meal early. Eating late increases weight gain and impacts sleep. If you feel like you need to snack before bed, make it light and healthy.

•Make your room as comfortable and relaxing as possible and look forward to crawling into bed.

•Eliminate electronics from your bedroom. It is a mistake to try to use electronics to make you sleepy. They actually keep you awake.

•Don’t use your bed for eating and working. Use it for sleeping.

•Reading a nontechnical interesting book can be helpful to some. But when you feel sleep coming on, don’t try to finish the chapter or page. Put it down and go to sleep. I personally am one who uses this method. For me, a biography works well. However, I never try to finish a page or chapter. As soon, as I feel sleepy, I mark he page and put it down. Even if I have to start the chapter over, it is no problem; it did the job; I fell asleep.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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