Sleep helps in restoring brain chemicals and provides rest to the body. Some studies have found that the brain organizes and stores memories during sleep. Lack of sleep can affect our daytime functioning, hormonal balance, appetite, and immune system.

How much sleep do we need? 

  • Babies: 16 hours per day
  • Children: 9-16 hours per day
  • Teenagers: 9 hours per day
  • Adults: most need 7-8 hours, but some may need as few as 5 or as many as 10
  • Pregnant women may need more sleep than usual
  • Older adults may sleep for shorter periods of time, more often. 

What are the stages of sleep?

  • Stage 1 (10%): It’s easy to be awakened from stage 1 sleep. You may experience slight muscle contractions that give you the sensation of falling.
  • Stage 2 (45-50%): Brainwaves slow down, body temperature drops, and breathing and heart rate remain constant.
  • Stages 3 and 4 (20%): You enter deep sleep. Your brain waves change from the waking alpha and beta waves to slower theta and delta waves. It is hardest to wake you up. Your blood pressure drops and your breathing slows.
  • REM (rapid eye movement) (20-25%): Your heart rate increases, your blood pressure rises, males get erections, and you lose some ability to regulate your body temperature. Most dreams occur during this stage. 

What can happen when you don’t sleep?

  • Day 1 - You will probably be tired and irritable. You may feel “weird” because your body produces extra Adrenalin, or you may feel slowed down because of fatigue.
  • Day 2 - You will probably have trouble concentrating and your attention span will shorten considerably. You are likely to make more mistakes at work. You shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery.
  • Day 3 - You will probably have extreme difficulty thinking clearly and you may see things that aren’t there or believe things that aren’t true. 

A severe sleep debt, if allowed to accumulate, can have the following detrimental effects:

  1.  Weight gain (or a reduced ability to lose weight): This appears to occur via changes in hormone levels specifically a decrease in serum leptin (a hormone which causes satiety) and an increase in serum ghrelin (a hormone which causes hunger
  2. Chronic severe fatigue and Decreased productivity: The person feels low on energy and does not feel like working,
  3. Irritability: the mood is also disturbed and the person may feel sad and irritable.
  4. Decreased ability to concentrate and Impaired short-term memory
  5. Depression. Interestingly, depression can cause fatigue, can be caused by fatigue and can be confused with fatigue.

Causes of sleeping difficulties:

  • Stress is the number one cause of short-term sleeping difficulties, according to sleep experts. Common triggers include school- or job-related pressures, a family or marriage problem and a serious illness or death in the family. 
  • Drinking alcohol or beverages containing caffeine in the afternoon or evening, exercising close to bedtime, following an irregular morning and nighttime schedule, and working or doing other mentally intense activities right before or after getting into bed can disrupt sleep.
  • Traveling also disrupts sleep, especially jet lag and travelling across several time zones. This can upset your biological or “circadian” rhythms.
  • Environmental factors such as a room that's too hot or cold, too noisy or too brightly lit can be a barrier to sound sleep. 
  • Interruptions from children or other family members can also disrupt sleep.  

There are techniques to combat common sleep problems:

  • Keep a regular sleep/wake schedule
  • Don’t drink or eat caffeine four to six hours before bed and minimize the daytime use
  • Don’t smoke, especially near bedtime or if you awake in the night
  • Avoid alcohol and heavy meals before sleep
  • Get regular exercise
  • Minimize noise, light and excessively hot and cold temperatures where you sleep
  • Develop a regular bedtime and go to bed at the same time each night
  • Try and wake up without an alarm clock
  • Attempt to go to bed earlier every night for certain period; this will ensure that you’re getting enough sleep