All About Sleep: An Essential Element for Your Well Being

All About Sleep

It is critical for you to learn about sleep...the better quality sleep pattern you can establish, the healthier you will be. Not to mention, we spend over one-third of our life asleep. We might as well make it great!

As much as I try to fight it, sleep is essential to our everyday functioning and overall health.

I use the term "try to fight it" because I am an overachiever... always trying to squeeze more hours into my day than are possible (does this sound familiar to you?).

The truth is, when I look for those extra hours at the end of the day, I usually take them away from my time to rest (perhaps this is why I often suffer from insomnia ...shame on me)!

I'm here to educate you about sleep...why we sleep, how much sleep you should get, and why sleep is so critical to your day-to-day functioning. The information that I've found on this topic will surely make you want to get your required sleep each night (and I promise to try to get better at it, too...)!

Why Do We Need Sleep?

Sleep plays an important roll in our well being, and is essential to our survival. During sleep, restorative functions occur, and the mind and body are given a chance to rest. Click here to read more about why do we sleep.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

The amount of sleep an individual needs varies from person to person, and from developmental stage to stage. In your quest to learn more about sleep, you probably wonder if you are getting enough sleep or not.

According to researchers, the average amount of sleep an adult needs each night is around 7.5 to 8 hours. Remember that this is an average...some people need more, some need less, depending on age and other factors.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?

Sleep Requirements By Age
Age Average Amount of Sleep Per Day
Newborn Up to 18 Hours
1-12 Months 14-18 Hours
1-3 Years 12-15 Hours
3-5 Years 11-13 Hours
5-12 Years 9-11 Hours
Adolescents 9-10 Hours
Adults (and elderly) 7-8(+) Hours
Pregnant Women 8+ Hours

Sleep and Age

As we get older, our sleep pattern changes. Most of us, sometime between the ages of sixty and seventy, begin to find it more difficult to sleep for eight hours every night - and also difficult to stay awake for the whole day.

The two things are connected: when we begin to take naps during the day, nature deducts this time from our night's sleep. Also, many other people begin to doze at around ten o'clock in th evening; they may then go to bed and fall asleep almost immediately - only to wake earlier than usual.

One way to combat this is to take a half-hour nap when you begin to feel tired, and then stay up until around midnight, after which you will probably sleep soundly until eight or nine o'clock in the morning.

The Stages of Sleep

You cannot fully learn about sleep without understanding the sleep stages. Sleep can be divided into two distinct REM (Rapid Eye Movements)stages:

1. Non-REM Sleep

Sometimes called orthodox sleep, falls into four stages, interspersed by periods of REM sleep.

  • Stage 1: Drowsy stage, where sleep is almost inevitable but not quite. During this stage of sleep you are vaguely aware of what is happening around you, and would equally be capable of nodding off completely, or waking up instantly.

  • Stage 1 to 2: As you move from stage 1 to 2, you may experience a sudden jerk of the entire body which wakes you up. This is known as a "hypnagogic startle"--hypnagogic being the term the describes the process of falling asleep. These jerks are normal, although they may only happen infrequently. There is no reason to be concerned, as a hypnagogic startle appears to serve no purpose and is not indicative of any disorder. You can still be woken easily from stage 2 sleep.

  • Stage 2 to 4: Sleep progresses from Stage 2 through the deepest level, Stage 4. An EEG trace in Stage 4 shows deeper and longer brain waves, in contrast to the small, fast brain waves of lighter sleep. During Stage 4 sleep--sometimes referred to as deep-wave-sleep-the breathing and heart rate become very stable. It would be difficult to wake during this stage of sleep without a powerful stimulus. But even in deepest sleep, your mind is able to process some information, and would respond to an urgent call to awaken, such a baby's cry or a smoke alarm.

2. REM Sleep

Also known as paradoxical sleep, REM sleep is interspersed with non-REM sleep periods, during which we dream. It accounts for about 20 percent of the time that we're asleep. The recorded brain waves of REM sleep show a pattern that is closest to Stage 1 sleep. However, REM sleep is entirely different physically from all of the non-REM stages. REM sleep is the stage when dreams occur.

What are Sleep Cycles?

A sleep cycle is the time it takes to progress normally through all of the sleep stages, independent of the length of an individual stage, and including both REM and non-REM sleep.

A baby born at full-term will have a sleep cycle of around 50 minutes, increasing to the adult length of 90 minutes by adolescence.

This cycling of the different sleep stages explains why we sometimes wake up ready to go and other times it is a struggle to get out of bed at the sound of the alarm.

Circadian Rhythms

Everyone has an internal "body clock" (that is regulated by the secretion of melatonin) that functions on a roughly 24-hour cycle. This clock is also known as a biorhythm or a circadian rhythm, and it defines the cycles of your bodily functions: when you feel sleepy or wakeful, active or tired, when you want to eat, and less obviously, fluctuations in body temperature and hormone secretion.

What About Sleep Debt?

You may hear people refer to their "sleep bank" from time to time, but what exactly are they talking about? Sleep banks are like real banks in that we put deposits in and take withdrawals out.

Each human should be putting a certain amount of sleep into their sleep bank each night(learn about sleep recommendations from the chart above). If they are putting less than the required amount in, they are creating an overall "sleep debt" for their body. This sleep debt takes a toll on your body, and makes you a less alert person overall.

Sleep loss accumulates from one night to the next. Therefore, sleep of durations that represent only a modest amount of sleep on a single night may produce a serious sleep debt when sustained over several nights. The more sleep lost each day, the greater the sleep debt and the larger the impairment.

How To Get to Sleep: A Look at Sleep Disturbances

If you keep irregular hours, sleeping and waking at different times every day, your circadian rhythms will only get confused. This can lead to a sleep disorder. Sleep disturbances can also come from other related disorders (such as depression). Some common sleep disorders are: Snoring, Narcolepsy, Insomnia, Restless Legs Syndrome, and Sleep Apnea.

How To Sleep Well: Sleep Hygiene Recommendations

Daytime Plan: How to Sleep Better at Night - Prepare a plan about sleep

How to Go to Sleep at Bedtime - Create a plan about sleep

Research on Sleep

Healthy sleep is that quantity and quality of sleep required to maintain optimal alertness during desired waking hours. Read about sleep research and what has been done to study healthy sleep.

Test Your Sleep I.Q.

Take this sleep test to see how much you really know about sleep. It's fun to do, and some of the answers will surprise you!

Return from About Sleep to Home Page


Griffey, Harriet. Sleep Well Tonight! Sure-Fire Solutions for a Good Night's Rest. New York, New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1998.