Why do we need sleep? Why is it so important?

Sleep is vital to our health. Sleep is an essential part of our body’s regenerative process. While we sleep, our body works to support healthy brain function and physical health. Sleep supports growth and development in children and teens. Getting a good night’s sleep translates to better learning for people of all ages. During sleep, the brain forms connections in preparation to learn and remember information.

Not getting enough sleep may lead a person to have trouble with problem-solving, making decisions, managing emotions and behaviors, and struggling with change. Lack of sleep not only contributes to tiredness, lack of focus, and moodiness, it can also contribute to:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Weakened immune system
  • Higher blood sugar levels
  • Heart disease
  • Kidney disease

Sleep deficiency

The term sleep deficiency refers to a variety of conditions such as sleeping at the wrong time of day, not sleeping well, not getting the different types of sleep needed, or having a sleep disorder that causes a person to have poor sleep quality or to be sleep deprived (not get enough sleep). Sleep deficiency is linked to chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and depression.

Who is at risk for sleep deficiency?

Caregivers or people with:

  • More than one job, demanding work or school schedules
  • Second or third shift jobs
  • Undiagnosed or untreated medical problems such as stress, anxiety, or sleep disorders
  • Alcohol or drug addictions
  • Medical conditions that require treatment with medicines that interfere with sleep

How to achieve better sleep

  • Schedule enough time for sleep by setting an appropriate bedtime.
  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Try to keep the same schedule on the weekends or don’t exceed the regular bedtime by more than an hour. Our bodies are not designed to “catch-up” on sleep.
  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time – no intense exercise or screen time.
  • Avoid eating a large meal within a couple of hours of bedtime (a light snack is fine).
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks before bed.
  • Avoid nicotine, cigarettes, and caffeine (soda, coffee, tea, and chocolate). Take into consideration that the effects of caffeine can last up to 8 hours so an afternoon cup of coffee can make it hard to fall asleep at night.
  • Spend time outside every day.
  • Get enough physical activity.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark (a dim night light is ok if needed).
  • Take a hot bath or use relaxation techniques before bed.

How many hours do I need to sleep?

Sleep Recommendations from the National Sleep Foundation:

  • Newborns (0 to 3 months): 14 to 17 hours each day
  • Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 to 15 hours
  • Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 to 14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3 to 5): 10 to 13 hours
  • School-age children (6 to 13): 9 to 11 hours
  • Teenagers (14 to 17): 8 to 10 hours
  • Younger adults (18 to 25): 7 to 9 hours
  • Adults (26 to 64): 7 to 9 hours
  • Adults (65+): 7 to 8 hours