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SLEEP: You Need it or Need More of it

By Jillian Anderson
On February 26, 2012

According to the 2005 Sleep in America Poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 71% of American adults receive less than 8 hours of sleep during the night on a typical weekday. Quality and quantity of sleep, or lack of it, affects all aspects of our lives, from health and safety to mood stability. Sleep even influences our ability to learn and retain new information which is particularly important to college students.

 

Information acquired during hours spent studying for a big exam could be easily lost if it is not followed by a full night of sleep, when short term memory is transformed into long term memory. According to a report released in 2006 by the Harvard Women's Health Watch, "sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation," in which, "people who'd slept after learning a task did better on tests later."

 

Our brains maintain many aspects of our health during sleep, including levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which influences our moods, ability to handle stressful situations, in addition to cardiovascular health by controlling blood pressure. Other hormones impact immune system function, as well as metabolism, appetite, and weight maintenance.

Most people need at least 6 hours of sleep per night, but the exact amount varies from person to person.

 

The American Psychological Association asserts that indications of excessive sleepiness include "irritability, moodiness and disinhibition," as well as an experience of "apathy, slowed speech and flattened emotional responses, impaired memory and an inability to multitask," eventually leading the sleepy person  to "fall into micro sleeps (5-10 seconds) that cause lapses in attention, nod off while doing an activity like driving or reading and then finally experience hypnagogic hallucinations, the beginning of REM sleep."

 

 In 2002 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that fatigue-related car crashes have a high mortality rate that is suspected to be associated with high speeds combined with delayed reaction time since "sleepy drivers are less likely than alert drivers to take corrective action before a crash."

 

On the NHTSA website for Drowsy Driving and Automobile Crashes, the organization states that "virtually all studies that analyzed data by gender and age group found that young people between ages 16-29, and males in particular, were the most likely to be involved in fall-asleep crashes."  Young adult males, night shift workers, medical residents, commercial truck drivers and people who obtain less than six hours of sleep per night are cited as being at particularly high risk for a fatal car crash, especially when driving late at night or early in the morning.

 

Environment and behavior play a major role in the amount of sleep a person gets. While it's normal to experience occasional sleeping difficulties, particularly when faced with stress associated with family or relationship issues, as well as school and job related stress, a long-term sleep deficit could cause many severe long term problems in your life.  If you think you are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, it's important to take steps to improve your sleep environment and modify behaviors that are contributing to your sleep deficit. The American Psychological Association recommends several tips to help you get more quality sleep:

 

.        Only go to bed when you are tired

.        If you have difficulty getting to sleep, do something else until you are ready

.        Get regular exercise

.        Reduce caffeine intake throughout the day

.        Avoid daytime naps

.        Sleep and wake up at the same times throughout the week, including weekends

.        Don't eat food or drink alcohol right before going to bed

.        Avoid noise, light, and extreme temperatures where you sleep

.        Don't watch TV in bed

.        Avoid caffeine within 4-6 hours of your normal bedtime

.        Don't oversleep (even on the weekends)


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