In today’s fast paced culture, where hustle and being constantly busy are seen as badges of honor, it’s often tempting to cut corners around sleep. However, research shows that chronically inadequate sleeping habits will cause numerous health risks over time. Furthermore, it can affect your task performance and cognitive function the next day.
Why Not Enough Sleep Is a Problem
Sleep is a time for the brain to rest and recover from stimulation during wakeful hours. But according to the Sleep Foundation, if you short circuit this process through sleep deprivation, the neurons become overworked. This impacts your alertness, focus, problem solving, motor skills, reaction time, judgment, creative and flexible thinking, memory, emotional regulation, mood state or decision making. These adverse effects can diminish overall quality of life.
The Sleep Foundation further notes there’s even a correlation between lack of sleep and common mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. As you grow older, sleep deprivation can also increase your risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s and other forms of cognitive decline. And those are just the mental ramifications of inadequate sleep.
Dr. Brandon Peters, a neurologist and sleep medicine specialist, noted in an article for VerywellHealth.com that if you don’t sleep enough on a consistent basis, it takes a significant toll on the body as well. This could make you susceptible to the following health conditions if the pattern goes unchecked:
- Weak immune function
- Slow metabolism
- High pain sensitivity
- Abnormal blood pressure
- Hormone imbalance
- Weight problems
- Thyroid issues
- Irregular breath or heart rate
- Decrease in body temperature
- Low energy levels
- Chronic disease (e.g. cancer)
- Shorter life expectancy
Benefits of Healthy, Consistent Sleep Habits
If those negative health impacts have you worried, fear not—there are just as many positive correlations associated with optimal sleeping habits. When you’re well rested each night, you can experience a host of physical and mental wellness benefits, such as:
- Strong heart and blood vessels
- Healthy blood sugar levels
- Stress and anxiety reduction
- Decrease in inflammation
- Energy and alertness
- Improved working memory
- Decision making and problem solving
- Weight maintenance
- Balance and lower risk of injury
- Positive social interactions
- Cellular damage repairs
Bottom line: adequate sleep is essential for a sharp brain and a resilient body. But how many hours of sleep are enough for you? The answer to this question is mostly contingent on the phase of life you’re in. So on that note, let’s explore how much sleep each particular age bracket usually requires. This information will help you determine which adjustments you might need to make to your own current sleeping schedule.
Amount of Sleep Each Age Group Needs
Here is a rundown of how much sleep to aim for based on how old you are, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Of course, it’s always crucial to listen to your own body’s unique, personal needs, but this will give you a frame of reference to work off:
- Children (6–13 years): between 9 and 11 hours
- Teenagers (14–17 years): between 8 and 10 hours
- Young Adults (18–25 years): between 7 and 9 hours
- Adults (26–64 years): between 7 and 9 hours
- Senior Adults (65+ years): between 7 and 8 hours
A word about senior adults: if you are within the 65+ bracket—or you’re the main caregiver of a parent or loved one who is—keep in mind that sleep quality is most important for this stage of life. For healthy adults, 13–23 percent of the total sleep cycle should be what’s called REM, or deep sleep, according to Vineyard Senior Living. Thus, if the average person catches eight hours of sleep each night, between 60 and 110 minutes should be REM sleep.
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“However, research shows that deep sleep tends to decrease with age. In fact, some older adults rarely enter deep sleep. This change can occur in healthy individuals, [so it] does not necessarily indicate a sleep disorder,” Vineyard Senior Living continues. With that being said, if you or a loved one habitually wake numerous times at night due to nocturia, insomnia, anxiety or chronic pain, it’s a smart idea to consult with a physician.
Structure Can Improve Sleeping Habits
No matter which stage of life you’re in, a regular sleep schedule will ensure that you create and maintain a sense of routine around sleep. This is particularly crucial for both young children and senior adults, but anyone can benefit from the practice. Here are some actionable ways to build more structure into your sleeping habits:
- Establish a consistent time frame for sleep: Give yourself an exact bedtime at night and wake time in the morning, then commit to sticking with those parameters. This helps the body tune into its own natural circadian rhythms.
- Create a relaxing bedtime ritual for yourself: Turn off the electronic screens, then do something to reduce stimulation and calm your mind for sleep. Some ideas are taking a warm bath, practicing meditation or reading a book.
- Evaluate lifestyle factors or daily activities: Consider how your normal behaviors could affect how you sleep at night. Nutrition, exercise, stress management and other lifestyle factors all have a role in sleep quality. For too much instance, alcohol, refined sugars, caffeine or spicy foods can interrupt sleep.
No matter how tempted you are to put off sleep and finish a work project (or continue with that Netflix marathon), sleep is vital for physical and mental wellness. You need it to function—end of story. So do that brain and body a favor and catch some Zzzzz’s.