Sleep Necessity or Luxury?

Most of us might define sleep as something we do when we have the time, sort of a luxury not a necessity. Or some may say I should be sleeping but I just don’t have the time. Either way, to most of us sleep is an activity we consider a luxury we can’t afford to spend too much time doing.

Sleep is where we allow our mind and body to restore itself naturally. Sleep allows us to quiet our external environmental and detach from the outside world and the stimuli that would normally require our attention. As we sleep our vital organs and brain continue to function and perform their nightly maintenance work.

Most of us spend approximately one-third of our lives asleep. If you were to ask the general public why they sleep, some would say it’s something we need to do while other might say I really wish I didn’t need to waste time sleeping. Adequate sleep is necessary for us to function at our peak mentally, emotionally and physically. After a really good night’s sleep we wake up feeling refreshed, alert and better able to handle everyday stressors. Below are 5 myths about sleep and how changing our perception just a small amount can help us get a better night sleep.

5 Myths about Sleep

Myth #1: When sleeping the body and mind will shut down during rest.

During the sleep cycle our nervous systems continues to work actively sending and receiving specific signals to regulate all our organs. Sleep gives the brain a chance to exercise important neuronal connections that might otherwise deteriorate from lack of activity. Which means when the brain is allowed to perform these activities we response more quickly, retain more information and can think at a higher level.

While we sleep our endocrine system increases production of growth hormone which increases bone density, increases lean muscle mass, decreases body fat and increase our capacity to exercise.

During deep sleep our body’s cells also show increased production and reduced breakdown of proteins. Since proteins are the building blocks needed for cell growth and for repair of damage from factors like stress and ultraviolet rays, deep sleep may truly be our way to the fountain of youth.

The brain controls emotions, decision-making processes and social interactions and during deep sleep these types of functions are drastically reduced suggesting that this type of sleep will help people maintain healthy emotional and social functioning during waking hours.

Myth #2: One less hour of sleep has no effect on how we function.

Believe it or not getting one less hours of sleep per day creates what’s called a “sleep debt.” Over time this deficit adds up and the debt becomes too great to overcome creating impair performance. As the sleep debt increases so the does the risk for fatigue, mental apathy and emotional instability. Sleep debt decreases our body ability to regulate blood sugar, stabilize metabolism and maintain healthy body weight.

Myth 3: I know when I haven’t had enough sleep.

Most of us think if we nod off or our eyes feel heavy it’s just part of how our body handles stress or our environment. Similar to the person who drinks too much and says they’re not drunk the sleepy person also loses the ability to realize they haven’t had enough sleep. Intoxicated and sleep deprived people rarely realize how their performance is affected because there are no warning signals. There are some astounding reactions similar to these two groups such as:

  • Thinking they’re awake but briefly nod off
  • Consider their performance stellar
  • Lowered emotional response
  • Response time is slower to most situations
  • Cognitive thinking slower

Myth #4: Our body can quickly adjust to different time’s schedules.

Our bodies possess two internal systems which regulates when we sleep and when we wake. This biological clock can be reset, but only by cues that are appropriately timed and only by one or two hours per day. As a general rule humans function best when sleeping during the night and active during the day.

On the average, our two systems counterbalance each other on a daily basis. However, they can become misaligned during certain situation such as night shift work, jet lag, new baby at home and or any situation which might cause our sleeping/awake patterns to change. When this type of conflict arises our biological clock tries to stay awake when we normally should be sleeping. This often leads to decreased motor and cognitive skills.

Myth #5: Older Adults need less sleep.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Older adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night, but often get less. As we age, our bodies change and these changes impact the length and quality of our sleep. Many seniors lack the ability to sleep for long periods of time and the ability to reach, restful stages of sleep decreases as they age based on the following factors:

  • As we age, our bodies’ product less of the hormones that helps us sleep: melatonin and human growth.
  • Melatonin is important because changes in the level of this hormone control our sleep cycle. With less melatonin, many older adults feel sleepy in the early evening and wake up in the early morning and experience more trouble falling asleep.
  • Human Growth hormone is what makes children and teenagers sleep more deeply. As we age, our body secretes less of this hormone and deep sleep becomes more difficult.
  • Menopause causes a great deal of hormonal changes in women, sometimes resulting in night sweats and other symptoms that interfere with sleep.
  • Andropause is male menopause which causes low testosterone and can contribute to sleep apnea in men, leading to insomnia or sleeplessness.

Many older adults for a number of different reasons have trouble falling and staying asleep. As we age, we may notice some of the following:

  • Taking naps throughout the day
  • Lack of vigorous exercise
  • Limited sun exposure
  • Alcohol, caffeine and nicotine use
  • Lack of stimulating conversation or activities
  • Taking longer to fall asleep
  • Not experiencing deep restful sleep
  • Waking up three or four times a night
  • Frequent nighttime bathroom trips

Sleep isn’t a luxury but something our body and mind needs every day to function at its  optimum level. After read the 5 myths of sleep, which one resonates with you and what are your plan to change?