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The Importance of Sleep

We All Need Sleep

You’ve surely seen a crying, whiny, or cranky baby or little boy and heard the apologetic parent explain, “He’s tired.” If you have kids, there’s a good chance you’ve had occasion to offer this particular explanation yourself: The child needs sleep.

The importance of sleep

It’s an explanation that makes sense to all of us. Perhaps we have memories of how it felt to be that sleepy child. In any case, even as adults, there’s a fair chance that we have experience of sleep deprivation and its effects. Many of us know if we go a night without sleeping, we’re likely to feel out of sorts the next day and dealing with our necessary tasks can be a challenge.

Still, with all that said, many of us don’t understand how important a good night’s sleep is for children and adults alike (although not necessarily in exactly the same way.) Some of us even treat it as sort of a Spartan virtue if we are able to go without much sleeping and continue functioning.

If you have that tough-guy attitude, you may find the information in this article illuminating. If you don’t have it but are dealing with a child who has trouble sleeping or are experiencing insomnia yourself, you may also discover something helpful.

Sleeping in Childhood

Studies have demonstrated that children who regularly get enough sleep have better learning, memory, attention, behavior, and overall physical and mental health vs. those who do not. Kids who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to develop high blood pressure, obesity, and depression.

This naturally leads to the question of how much sleep is enough. This varies somewhat according to age. Here’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

How Much Sleep Does Your Child Need?

  • Infants under 1 year old need 12-16 hours.
  • Children 1-2 years old need 11-14 hours.
  • Children 3-5 years old need 10-13 hours.
  • Children 6-12 years old need 9-12 hours.
  • Teenagers 13-18 years old need 8-10 hours. (Unfortunately, studies show that 9 out of 10 teens don’t get that much.)

Sometimes getting children to fall asleep and keep them sleeping through the night is challenging. Setting a consistent bedtime and sticking to it is one of the most useful ways to deal with this. When the sun goes down, it’s time to start calming down the household as the first step in the child’s bedtime routine. To create an atmosphere conducive to sleeping, do the following.

How to Help A Child Sleep

  • Dim the lights
  • Stop the use of TVs, computers, and anything electronic with a screen at least one hour before bedtime.
  • Provide a warm bath.
  • Limit caffeine.
  • Involve the child in a quiet family activity like reading a short book.
  • If the child wakes in the middle of the night, put him or her back to bed with as little fuss as can be managed.
  • Set a wakeup time. When that time rolls around, the child is free to leave his or her bedroom, but it’s not allowed before.

If none of this works, and the child is having problems during the day that seem related to lack of sleep, the best course of action is to consult your pediatrician.

Sleeping in Adulthood

Sleeping is equally important for adults. Here are some of the reasons why.

Why Adults Need Sleep

  • Adults who don’t get enough sleep are 55% more likely to become obese. This may be related to hormonal factors as well as a reduced inclination to exercise.
  • Poor sleepers tend to eat more calories. (Obviously, this seems related to the previous point.) It’s likely that sleep deprivation messes up normal daily fluctuations in appetite hormones, and that results in poor appetite regulation.
  • Getting enough sleep maximizes athletic performance by improving speed, reaction time, accuracy, and mental well being.
  • Getting enough sleep can improve concentration and productivity by enhancing cognition, problem-solving skills, and performance. Conversely, sleep deprivation can affect the brain in a way not similar to alcohol intoxication.
  • Poor sleepers are more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke.
  • Poor sleepers are at greater risk of type 2 Diabetes.
  • If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re more likely to suffer from depression. 90% of people with clinical depression report poor quality sleep.
  • Getting enough sleep strengthens your immune system whereas even relatively minor sleep deprivation impairs the immune function.
  • Poor sleep has been linked to inflammation including the long-term inflammation of the digestive tract in inflammatory bowel diseases. Patients with Crohn’s disease are twice as likely to relapse if they don’t sleep well.
  • Poor sleep reduces your emotional intelligence and thus can hurt the quality of your social interactions.

How Much Sleep Do Adults Need?

As with children, all this information raises the question, how much sleep is enough for the average adult? The answer is that most adults need 7-9 hours a night to be at their best.

Of course, getting those 7-9 hours consistently can be easier said than done if a person has insomnia. Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep and/or staying asleep not just once in a while but frequently. In addition to having trouble going to sleep, insomniacs may wake often during the night and have trouble going back to sleep or wake up too early in the morning. It’s estimated that over 3 million Americans suffer from insomnia.

Insomnia has no cure per se, but there are some things you can do to help manage it. (Some of them were mentioned in the previous section as ways to help a child fall asleep and then sleep through the night.) If you’re having trouble sleeping, try the following.

Ways to Handle Insomnia

  • Wake up at the same time every morning. By doing so, you’re conditioning yourself to follow a consistent sleep routine.
  • Cut out alcohol and stimulants like caffeine and nicotine.
  • Try not to nap. This undermines that consistent sleep routine you’re trying to establish.
  • Don’t eat or drink right before bed. The resulting activity in your digestive system can keep you up, and if you suffer from acid reflux or heartburn, you’re even more likely to have trouble sleeping. A full bladder can make you get up repeatedly to pee.
  • Get regular exercise. Just don’t do it within three hours of going to bed as it can have a stimulant effect.
  • Make your bedroom as comfortable and relaxing as possible. Consider the lighting, the temperature, and how noisy that environment is.
  • Don’t worry. If you’re like many of us, worrying is more or less a part of who you are, but try to do your fretting earlier. Don’t bring it to bed.
  • Use your bed for sleeping and sex only. Don’t do other activities like, for example, checking your phone or watching TV. The activities are apt to make you more alert and thus less likely to go to sleep anytime soon.

If these tips don’t do the trick, consider seeking professional help. Your doctor may refer you for relaxation therapy to reduce stress, cognitive therapy to eliminate thoughts and ideas that contribute to insomnia, or conceivably prescribe medication.

Insomnia isn’t the only kind of sleep disorder. There is, for example, sleep apnea, in which the sufferer stops breathing repeatedly in his sleep. It’s as serious as it sounds, but fortunately, a medical professional can treat it, possibly by prescribing a sleep apnea mask.

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