Why is sleep so critical to our well-being? If resting in bed were all it took to recharge body and mind for the coming day, insomniacs could take in their favorite late night television and start the next day fresh. But surprisingly, it's not how much sleep you get that's important—it's the level of sleep you achieve that truly restores you, body and mind.
Sleep can be divided into two crucial phases:
In addition to productivity and safety consequences, research shows that people who have insomnia or are chronically sleep deprived may be more likely to have an increased risk of:
People who do not get enough sleep may also:
Not only do Americans give up a good night's rest in an attempt to keep up with the hectic pace of the electronic age, many, including late shift healthcare, military and public safety workers, nuclear power plant operators, medical residents, and long-haul truck drivers, are building daily schedules against the body's natural circadian rhythm. That rhythm dictates that the longest period of sleepiness occurs during the hours of 2:00 am to 4:00 am. Thus, people who work the late shift lose out on the time that the body is programmed for the deepest and most beneficial sleep.
The elderly, too, cope with a special set of difficulties that keeps them from getting the sleep they need. Aging brings on a host of health-related problems that interrupt sleep, such as having pain from conditions like arthritis and taking medicines with side effects that disturb rest. More than any other population, the elderly rely on medicines that keep them up at night. Moreover, a more sedentary lifestyle doesn't allow for the expenditure of energy that results in restful sleep. Lastly, the brain doesn't allow for the same degree of deep sleep per night as enjoyed in youth.
But none of this means that the elderly don't need as much rest as everyone else. The combination of conditions that change the sleep habits of the elderly only indicates that they need to alter their sleep habits so that they get enough shut-eye.
In general, people are so used to going without enough sleep that they don't recognize that their sleeping habits make sound slumber unlikely. Following these simple tips will help you settle down for a good night's rest. Do the following to improve the quality of your sleep as well as to get more restful sleep:
If you're troubled with chronic difficulties falling asleep—or staying asleep—see a doctor. Sleep disorders are very common and can be treated.
American Academy of Sleep Medicine
National Sleep Foundation
Better Sleep Council Canada
Canadian Sleep Society
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Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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