Understanding Sleep

Not the passive state many people once considered it to be, sleep is now known to be a highly active process during which the day’s events are processed and energy is restored.

Sleep is a state that is characterized by changes in brain wave activity, breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and other physiological functions.

 

Every night, nearly every person undergoes a remarkable change: we leave waking consciousness and for hours traverse a landscape of dreams and deep sleep. When we wake, we typically remember little or nothing about the hours that have just passed. Except in rare instances, we never contemplate and appreciate that we are sleeping while we are asleep. Thus, although everyone sleeps, most people would be hard-pressed to precisely define sleep. All organisms exhibit daily patterns of rest and activity that resemble the daily sleep and wakefulness patterns seen in humans.

From observing changes in behaviour and responsiveness, scientists have noted the following characteristics that accompany and in many ways define sleep:

  • Sleep is a period of reduced activity.
  • Sleep is associated with a typical posture, such as lying down with eyes closed in humans.
  • Sleep results in a decreased responsiveness to external stimuli.
  • Sleep is a state that is relatively easy to reverse (this distinguishes sleep from other states of reduced consciousness, such as hibernation and coma).


Source: healthysleep.med.harvard.edu


How many hours of sleep do you need?

While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need even more. And despite the notion that our sleep needs decrease with age, older people still need at least 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep. Since older adults often have trouble sleeping this long at night, daytime naps can help fill in the gap.


Signs that you’re not getting enough sleep

If you’re getting less than eight hours of sleep each night, chances are you’re sleep deprived. What’s more, you probably have no idea just how much lack of sleep is affecting you.

How is it possible to be sleep deprived without knowing it? Most of the signs of sleep deprivation are much more subtle than falling face first into your dinner plate. Furthermore, if you’ve made a habit of skimping on sleep, you may not even remember what it feels like to be wide-awake, fully alert, and firing on all cylinders. Maybe it feels normal to get sleepy when you’re in a boring meeting, struggling through the afternoon slump, or dozing off after dinner, but the truth is that it’s only “normal” if you’re sleep deprived.


You may not be getting enough sleep if you…

  • Cannot wake up on time without an alarm
  • Hit the “Snooze” button too often
  • Have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning
  • Feel tired in the afternoon
  • Get sleepy in meetings, lectures, or warm rooms
  • Get sleepy after heavy meals or while driving
  • Need to have a nap to get through the day
  • Fall asleep in front of TV or reading a book
  • Feel the need to sleep in on weekends
  • Fall asleep within five minutes of going to bed