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Sleep


Sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles.[1] It is distinguished from quiet wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, and is more easily reversible than being in hibernation or a coma. Sleep is a heightened anabolic state, accentuating the growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. It is observed in all mammals, all birds, and many reptiles, amphibians, and fish.

In mammals and birds, sleep is divided into two broad types: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM or non-REM) sleep. Each type has a distinct set of associated physiological, neurological, and psychological features.

Sleep timing is controlled by the circadian clock, sleep-wake homeostasis, and in humans, within certain bounds, willed behavior. The circadian clock-an inner timekeeping, temperature-fluctuating, enzyme-controlling device-works in tandem with adenosine, a neurotransmitter that inhibits many of the bodily processes associated with wakefulness. Adenosine is created over the course of the day; high levels of adenosine lead to sleepiness.

Human sleep needs can vary by age and among individuals, and sleep is considered to be adequate when there is no daytime sleepiness or dysfunction. Moreover, self-reported sleep duration is only moderately correlated with actual sleep time as measured by actigraphy, and those affected with sleep state misperception may typically report having slept only four hours despite having slept a full eight hours.

Hours by Age

Children need more sleep per day in order to develop and function properly: up to 18 hours for newborn babies, with a declining rate as a child ages. A newborn baby spends almost 9 hours a day in REM sleep. By the age of five or so, only slightly over two hours is spent in REM. Studies say that school age children need about 10 to 11 hours of sleep.

Age and condition

Age and conditionSleep Needs
Newborns (0-2 months)12 to 18 hours
Infants (3-11 months)14 to 15 hours
Toddlers (1-3 years)12 to 14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years)11 to 13 hours
School-age children (5-10 years)10 to 11 hours
Adolescents (10-17 years)8.5 to 9.25 hours
Adults, including elderly7 to 9 hours
Pregnant women needs 8(+) hours

Importance of Sleep:

Six reasons not to scrimp on sleep
A recent survey found that more people are sleeping less than six hours a night, and sleep difficulties visit 75% of us at least a few nights per week. A short-lived bout of insomnia is generally nothing to worry about. The bigger concern is chronic sleep loss, which can contribute to health problems such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and a decrease in the immune system's power, reports the Harvard Women's Health Watch.

While more research is needed to explore the links between chronic sleep loss and health, it's safe to say that sleep is too important to shortchange.

The Harvard Women's Health Watch suggests six reasons to get enough sleep:

Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. In studies, people who'd slept after learning a task did better on tests later.
Metabolism and weight: 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.
Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents.
Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do.
Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat.
Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body's killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

Sleeplessness can lead to imbalances in the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol. Potential consequences are weakening of the immune system, risk of a variety of chronic illnesses as well as psychological effects, such as memory loss, mood swings and depression. Sleep deprivation may also have a significant impact on one's life expectancy.

Sleeplessness can lead to imbalances in the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol. Potential consequences are weakening of the immune system, risk of a variety of chronic illnesses as well as psychological effects, such as memory loss, mood swings and depression. Sleep deprivation may also have a significant impact on one's life expectancy.

On the upside, there is compelling evidence that a healthy sleep routine can contribute greatly to one's physical and mental well-being as well as the quality of life in general. Getting sufficient sleep ranks among the best defense mechanisms we have to stay healthy and handle our stress.

We function and perform at our best when we are well-rested. We are better colleagues, parents, companions and lovers when we are relaxed and at ease. We face challenges with more energy and resolve and keep negative or destructive emotions at bay. We are less prone to reach for drugs or alcohol to get high or numb ourselves when the going gets tough. In a word, with enough rest, we are more likely to stay healthy and well all around.

Developing a better sleep routine

Like with stress, "sleep management" can be learned. Here are some tips for a better "sleep routine."

Avoid foods, beverages and substances that may interfere with your sleep. Eating a snack before bed is not uncommon, and some folks swear by it.

Stick to "complex" carbohydrates, like whole wheat crackers or toast. Dairy products are a good choice as well. Milk contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which has sleep-inducing effects. Avoid too much protein intake, though. For instance, "restless leg syndrome" (RLS) has been shown to occur frequently in connection with diets that are high in protein.

Create an environment that is conducive to your sleep. Your bedroom should be reserved for sleep. Don't make it your habit to watch TV, work or eat in bed. Minimize disturbances by eliminating noise and light as much as possible. If you are a light sleeper and awake easily, you may consider installing window blinds and even wearing ear plugs. Keep your bedroom temperature constant at a comfortable level and a few degrees cooler than the rest of your dwelling. If you get up during the night, avoid exposure to bright lights and keep a dim night light on instead.