Health Department

The Importance of Sleep

Importance of Sleep
by Larry D. Jones, MPH, Health Director
August 19, 2014

With school starting, it’s the perfect time to be reminded of the importance of sleep for students, but also for adults. As we get older, less sleep may be needed, but making sure we still get enough is essential.

Improving sleep health has even been included as one of the Healthy People 2020 goals. Healthy People is a science-based, 10-year national program of the federal government with goals for improving the health of all Americans.

There are two alternating states of sleep, Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM).

NREM is also referred to as "quiet" sleep. During the deep states of NREM sleep, blood supply to the muscles is increased, energy is restored, tissue growth and repair occur, and important hormones are released for growth and development.

REM is "active" sleep. It is during REM sleep that our brains are active and dreaming occurs. Our bodies become immobile, breathing and heart rates are irregular.

Sleep, like nutrition and physical activity, is a critical factor in health and well-being. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health including prevention of chronic diseases, quality of life, and safety.

The suggested amount of sleep each day changes over the course of a lifetime. Newborns tend to sleep in smaller spurts for 16-18 hours a day. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), It’s recommended that preschool-aged children get 11-12 hours of sleep a day either at night or through a nap, school-aged children should get at least 10 hours a day, teens need 9-10 hours, and adults need 7-8 hours a day. Keep in mind that there is no magic number and individual sleep needs differ.

Some people nap as a way to deal with sleepiness. Naps can provide a short-term boost in alertness and performance. However, it doesn't provide all of the other benefits of nighttime sleep so it won’t help make up for lost sleep. If you have trouble falling asleep at night, limit naps or take them earlier in the afternoon. Adults should nap for no more than 20 minutes.

Another common activity is to sleep more on days off than on work days or go to bed and get up later on days off. Extra sleep on days off may upset your body's sleep–wake rhythm. Therefore, you should try to keep the same sleep schedule on weeknights and weekends or limit the difference to no more than about an hour.

Sleep is very important for children’s health, growth, and development. When kids get enough sleep they are able to pay better attention in school, be creative, think of new ideas, fight sickness, be in a good mood, get along with friends and family, and solve problems better. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH) has found that deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens and even adults.

WebMD has listed the following as some added benefits of getting enough sleep.

Sleep helps enhance learning and problem-solving skills. Getting enough sleep can help you pay attention, make decisions, and be creative. Sleep is important for learning and memory and helps the brain commit new information to memory.

Your immune system relies on sleep to stay healthy. Those who get enough sleep tend to have immune systems that respond better and more easily fight common infections.

Getting enough sleep can also help maintain a healthy weight and help you avoid weight gain. Part of the problem is behavioral. Getting enough sleep will help you have the energy to go for that jog or cook a healthy dinner after work. The other part is hormonal. Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite.

You can take steps to improve your sleep habits. First, make sure that you allow yourself enough time to sleep. According to NIH, to improve your sleep habits try to:

  • Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. For children, have a set bedtime and a bedtime routine.
  • Use the hour before bed for quiet time. Avoid strenuous exercise and bright artificial light, such as from a TV or computer screen. The light may signal the brain that it's time to be awake.
  • Avoid heavy or large meals within a couple hours of bedtime. Also, avoid alcoholic and caffeinated drinks as well as nicotine before bed.
  • Spend time outside every day and be physically active.
  • Keep your bedroom quiet, cool, and dark.