The amount of sleep each individual needs each day depends on many things. Infants require about 16 hours of sleep each day, while teenagers need about 9 hours. For most adults, 7 to 8 hours a night seems to be the best amount of sleep, although some adults may need as little as 5 hours or as much as 10 hours of sleep each night. During the first 3 months of pregnancy, women often need several additional hours of sleep than usual. The amount of sleep we need can also increase if we have been deprived of sleep.
Not getting enough sleep creates a sleep debt, which is like taking a loan from the sleep bank. Eventually, your own body will require the debt to be repaid. It’s very difficult, if not impossible, trying to adapt to getting less sleep than we need. While we may get used to a certain schedule that does not meet our sleep needs, our reaction time, judgment, and other functions are still significantly diminished – and sometimes dangerously so.
It’s typical for us to sleep more lightly and for shorter time periods as we age, but we usually need about the same amount of sleep as we required when we were young adults. About 50 percent of people over 65 have recurrent sleeping problems, such as insomnia. Deep sleep stages in many older adults often become much shorter or even stop altogether. This change may be a typical part of the aging process, but it could also be a result of common medical problems associated with older people, along with the medications and other treatments for those problems.
Sleep experts say that if you get drowsy during the day (even if you’re bored), you haven't had enough sleep. Another big warning sign is when you regularly fall asleep within 5 minutes of lying down, and it could be an indication that you may have severe sleep deprivation, and possibly even a sleep disorder.
Microsleeps, or very brief episodes of sleep in a person who would otherwise be awake, are yet another warning sign that there is a sleep deprivation issue occurring. In most cases, people are not even aware that they are experiencing such microsleeps. The common practice of an overly-ambitious schedule typically seen in western industrialized countries has fostered so much sleep deprivation, that what is really abnormal sleepiness has now become the accepted norm.
According to most sleep studies, sleep deprivation is potentially very dangerous. Those of us who are sleep-deprived and have been tested with a driving simulator or other hand-eye coordination test, perform as badly as or even worse than individuals who are intoxicated. Sleep deprivation also amplifies the effects of alcohol on the body. A sleep-deprived person who drinks becomes much more impaired than someone who is well-rested.
According to the US Government, driver fatigue is responsible for about 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1500 deaths annually. Drowsiness is the last step before falling asleep; therefore driving while drowsy can have tragic results. Plus, contrary to popular belief, caffeine and other stimulants will not overcome the effects of severe sleep deprivation. The bottom line here is simple - if you can't stop yawning, or if you can't remember driving the last few miles, you are most likely too drowsy to drive safely.
If you feel you fit into the sleep-deprived state we have described, you should seek medical advice from your doctor. A simple sleep study can reveal most of the causes of such sleep issues, and in many cases, there are effective treatments available. Additionally, you can now see just how critical your sleep environment is, and you should take the steps necessary to optimize it to ensure the best possible sleep.
Sleep hygiene can play a critical role in getting that much sought after good night’s sleep. For example, many people suffer from common allergies, known as rhinitis. Rhinitis manifests as nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, and red, irritated eyes. This is usually brought on by microscopic dust mites, which live inside your pillow and mattress by the millions, feeding off the dust that collects there. An inexpensive, yet effective solution for this is anti-bed bug/dust mite covers. In addition, your room should be quiet, cool (not cold) and dark when you try to sleep.
(Sources: American Sleep Association, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, The National Institutes for Health and Bedbug.com)
This informative series of sleep articles is brought to you by SecureSleep™, the bedding encasement specialists, insuring that you can go to sleep with the piece of mind knowing you are protected from bed bugs and allergens. SecureSleep promotes Sleep Hygiene and Health.
Part 1: Sleep Basics - Why Do We Need Sleep
Part 2: How Much Sleep is Enough Sleep (this article)
Part 3: What are the Benefits of Sleep
Part 4: Importance of REM Stage Sleep and Dreaming
Part 5: What are Circadian Rhythms
Part 6: Disease Associated with Sleep
Part 7: Sleep Disorders
Part 8: Clean Sleep Environment