As a sleep technologist, you should know (and be telling your patients) that obtaining enough sleep is important to help to maintain optimal well-being and health. When it comes to health, sleep is just as important as eating a balanced diet and regular exercise.
Below you'll learn more about the importance of quality sleep, the effects of each sleep cycle, and the required number of hours of sleep individuals need based on their age.
Why We Need Sleep
Living busy lives today in the U.S. doesn't always equate to getting adequate sleep. However, it's still essential that individuals do try their best to obtain enough regular sleep.
The following are reasons why we need sleep and why it's necessary to instill this in your patients.
1. Better Concentration and Productivity
There are a few studies in the early 2000s where researchers looked at sleep deprivation effects. The researchers found sleep has associations to a few brain functions which include:
The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry published a 2015 study showing how the sleep patterns of children can have a direct affect on their academic performance and behavior.
2. Poor Sleep is Linked to Weight Gain
There's a strong link between poor sleep and weight gain. Individuals with short sleep duration often weigh much more than those obtaining enough sleep. Actually, the strongest risk factor for obesity is a short sleep duration.
In one study, adults and kids with short sleep duration were 55% and 89% more likely to struggle with obesity.
A number of factors seem to mediate sleep's effects on weight gain, including motivation to exercise and hormones. Obtaining quality sleep is crucial for weight loss.
3. Better Regulation of Calorie Intake
Like with weight gain, evidence suggests obtaining a good night's sleep could help an individual consume fewer calories in the daytime. For instance, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America published a study showing sleep patterns impact the hormones responsible for appetite.
When you don't sleep long enough, it could disrupt your body's ability to correctly regulating food intake.
4. Memory Storage
Often, people believe sleep is the time when their body and mind shut down. But, this isn't true. It's actually an active period where many essential things occur like:
The way in which this occurs and why the body is programmed for a long sleep period is still unclear. But, scientists do realize the critical functions of sleep and the reasons humans require it for optimal well-being and health.
An important role of sleep is to help you reinforce and consolidate memories. As you go on with your day, your brain takes in an abundance of information. Instead of your brain directly logging and recording this information, this information and your experiences must be first processed and stored - most of this occurs while you sleep.
During the night, fragments of this information are transferred from more ill-defined, short-term memory to a strong, long-term memory through the process known as "consolidation." After you sleep, you tend to retain information and better perform memory tasks. Your body requires long sleep periods to:
Rejuvenate and restore
5. Cardiovascular Health
Research has shown a link between serious sleep disorders and increased hormone levels, hypertension and irregular heartbeat.
6. Poor Sleep is Associated with Depression
Mental health problems, like depression, have a strong link with sleep disorders and poor sleep quality. Estimates show 90% of individuals struggling with depression also complain about their quality of sleep.
There's even a link between poor sleep and an increased risk of suicide. Individuals with sleep disorders like obstructive sleep apnea or insomnia also report substantially higher depression rates than those without.
7. Sleep Enhances Immune Function
An impaired immune function has been linked with even a small loss of sleep. A two-week large study monitored individuals given nasal drops with the cold virus for the development of a cold.
The researchers found the people who slept less than seven hours has nearly three times the risk of developing a cold than people who slept at least eight hours.
Understanding Sleep Cycles
Learning more about sleep cycles will help you to better help your patients. Sleep cycles are:
1. NREM Sleep vs. REM Sleep
While you're sleeping, there are various activity patterns your brain goes through. The cycle is predictable and includes:
During each stage of sleep, here's what's going on with your body:
N1 (Stage One): After nodding off, within minutes or even seconds, your brain starts producing alpha and theta waves, slowing down your eye movements. It's a fairly brief introduction to sleep that lasts up to seven minutes. You're in a light stage of sleep during this time, meaning you could be woken up easily and are somewhat alert. People like to call this stage the "catnap" stage.
N2 (Stage Two): This is also a relatively light stage of sleep where your brain produces sudden spikes of sleep spindles (brain wave frequency). Your brain waves then slow down. You'd want to wake up after this sleep stage if you were only looking to indulge in a "power nap."
N3 (Stage Three): Here is where you begin deep sleep, and your brain starts to produce slower delta waves. You don't experience any muscle activity or eye movement. Your brain starts producing even more delta waves and you start moving into a more restorative, deeper sleep stage next. This is the stage where it's harder to wake up. During this stage your body is:
Stimulating development and growth
Repairing tissues and muscles
Building up energy for the following day
Boosting immune function
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) Sleep: After initially falling asleep, around 90 minutes later, you typically enter REM sleep and each stage of REM could last up to one hour. Each night, the average adult will typically experience about five to six cycles of REM. Your brain starts to become more active during this final sleep stage. During this stage:
Your blood pressure and heart rate increase
Your eyes jerk in different directions quickly
Your breathing becomes irregular, fast and shallow
REM sleep has a significant role in memory and learning function because it's during this stage where your brain is consolidating and processing your day's information in order to store it into your long-term memory.
These phases of sleep last for different durations for different age groups. For instance, the sleep cycle of an infant will be different from an adult's or senior's.
2. Quality vs. Quantity of Sleep
The quality and quantity of sleep can also have a substantial effect on sleep patterns. Things like an irregular sleep schedule, repeatedly missing a night's sleep or frequent disruption of sleep can lead to a redistribution of sleep stages - deeper and prolonged slow-wave NREM sleep periods, for instance. Medications can impact sleep stages too. For instance, drinking alcohol before sleep often suppresses REM sleep early in the nighttime. Once your body metabolizes the alcohol later in the night, your REM sleep bounces back. But, you may also awaken more frequently during this time.
Changes in brain function and structure during development could have a gradual, but profound, effect on sleep patterns. Throughout your lifespan, the amount of sleep you obtain typically reduces and becomes more fragmented.
Other factors that can impact sleep are:
Stress and certain medical conditions, particularly those that lead to discomfort and chronic pain
The medications you take
What you eat and drink
Your sleeping environment
These all can affect the quality and quantity of sleep greatly. All of these factors, in general, often limit the depth of sleep and result in more awakenings.
As a sleep technologist, probably the first thing you explored and have asked yourself is, "how much sleep do I need?" This is likely a question your patients ask themselves as well. To help your patients understand this, here's a guide to provide you with the information you need on hours of sleep by age.
As you'll see, the quantity of sleep will differ between age groups. We'll break it down by starting with infants through teenage years and then move on to adults and seniors, after discussing the unique sleep needs of infants, children, teens and seniors.
Infants, Pediatrics and Teens Sleep Needs
Infants, kids and teenagers require substantially more sleep than adults in order to support their quick physical and mental development. Many parents are aware of the fact that growing children require good sleep, but a lot of them don't know the exact number of hours children require and what the effect of even missing a half hour to hour of sleep time can be.
One reason why it can be difficult to know when children are obtaining inadequate sleep is that when kids are drowsy, they often don't "slow down" like adults do, but rather wind up instead. Sleepiness can sometimes look like attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Kids often act like they're not tired, resist going to bed and become hyper as nighttime approaches. All this could occur due to the child being overtired.
This doesn't mean that an underlying psychiatric condition like ADHD could be what's causing sleep loss in kids. Doctors and researchers are also discovering that sleep apnea is fairly common in kids too. Estimates show 1% to 4% of kids struggle with sleep apnea - many between the ages of two and eight. Individuals with sleep apnea wake up briefly, several times each hour because they're struggling with breathing. Most individuals don't even know they're struggling with sleep apnea events unless someone tells them or a sleep technologist conducts a test for confirmation.
When adolescents move into young adulthood is where they'll experience the biggest and drastic change in satisfaction with sleep and deep sleep.
Many adolescents think they're sleeping well and it can be hard to wake them up. But, this is due to them experiencing lots of deep, slow-wave sleep.
Seniors Sleep Needs
As you start aging, sleep likely becomes less restorative and less satisfying. And, this might, to some degree, be just a part of your natural aging process. However, it could also have something to do with your overall health.
Sleep deterioration follows overall health more so than it does chronological age. Basically, your sleep improves as your health improves.
Many seniors aren't obtaining enough sleep due to insomnia. Insomnia can be just as debilitating as that of poor sleep due to sleep apnea.
Seniors tend to suffer from insomnia more, partly because of:
Concerns with aging
Medications they take
As you age, your risk of restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea also increases. Plus, arthritis pain and frequent urination are more common as well, robbing seniors of their sleep.
Advanced sleep phase syndrome starts settling in as adults age and causes the internal clock of the body to make adjustments to earlier bedtimes and earlier wakeup times. Some seniors, however, continue staying up late like they did when they were younger and this often results in sleep deprivation.
Many seniors also have habits that make it harder to obtain a good night's sleep. They might not exercise as much or frequently nap during the day. They may spend less time outside, thereby reducing their exposure to sunlight, which can disrupt their sleep cycle. Consuming more caffeine or alcohol can also make it harder for them to fall or stay asleep.
Also, as individuals age, their sleep and wake patterns often change. Seniors typically become tired earlier in the evenings and wake up earlier in the mornings. So, they might find it harder to fall and stay asleep if they don't adjust their bedtime to these changes.
Furthermore, many seniors take various different medicines that might adversely affect their sleep. Many medicines come with side effects that could lead to sleepiness and affect functioning during the day.
Sleep Needs At Each Age
Hours of sleep needed by age, According to the National Sleep Foundation, are:
Infant sleep needs are:
Pediatric sleep needs are:
Toddlers between one and two years old: 11 to 14 hours recommended. Nine to 10 hours (no less than nine) and 15 to 16 hours (no more than 16) might be appropriate.
Preschoolers between three and five years old: 10 to 13 hours recommended. Eight to nine hours (no less than eight) and 14 hours (no more than 14) might be appropriate.
School-aged kids between six and thirteen years old: 9 to 11 hours recommended. Seven to eight hours (no less than seven) and 12 hours (no more than 12) might be appropriate.
Teen sleep needs are:
How much sleep do adults need?
The number of hours of sleep needed for this age group is:
Younger adults between 18 and 25 years old: Around seven to nine hours recommended, but 6 or 10 to 11 hours may be appropriate.
Adults between 26 and 64 years old: Around 7 to 9 hours recommended, but 6 or 10 hours may be appropriate.
Geriatric sleep needs are:
As you can see, sleep is important no matter what age your patient is. But, age can change an individual's sleep patterns. And, there are many factors that can affect sleep. If lifestyle changes don't help individuals sleep and/or they suspect a sleep disorder, this is when they'd benefit coming in and having you perform a sleep study so you can get to the bottom of their sleep issues and help find an ideal treatment.