Have you ever wondered why all living things need sleep? You might have pondered this question while yawning, and likely after a night spent bouncing your baby or coaxing your child back to his own bed. As new parents, it’s hard to get an adequate amount of sleep at night, but we have to in order to give our bodies and brains a boost. That’s right! Not a rest, but a boost.
What Happens During Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is an active period in which we complete information processing, restoration, and strengthening. The exact mechanics of how our bodies and brains do this is unknown and why we are programmed for such long hours of sleep is still a mystery, but some of the vital roles of sleep have been determined through research.
During sleep, we process and store memories. Memories, shockingly, are not directly logged or recorded as our day goes on, they are stored in our tentative, short-term memory for the time being. Once asleep, our brains process the information and transfer it to long-term memory, a catalogue of important information.
Sleep also rejuvenates and restores our bodies. During our lengthy hours of sleep, we grow muscle and repair tissue. I’m sure this comes as no surprise to new parents as our first years with our child shows an excessive amount of growth paired with extraordinary amounts of sleep!
Lastly, researchers have also shown that sleep allows our bodies to create hormones and improve the immune system. This certainly holds true if you get a cold and need the extra hours of sleep to help your body fight the fight. It also indicates why teenagers often can’t get out of bed before noon…
For more from the National Sleep Foundation – Click here
For other theories currently being researched – Click here
These activities that occur during sleep have amazing benefits for us – fixing our bodies when we are injured or sick, helping our digestive and circulatory systems function through synthesizing the correct hormones, and processing thoughts, ideas, and memories. Littler ones even sleep to grow. Arguably, sleep, although still mysterious, is more beneficial than most other daily activities. So it’s important to get enough!
How Much Sleep is Needed
What a great question! The amount of sleep that’s needed per person all depends on their age. Kids require more sleep than adults because their bodies are continually growing, making more muscle mass and synthesizing more hormones. Adults can get away with less sleep, but nonetheless, sleep is very important for everyone.
The recommended amount of sleep per age group is as follows (click here):
- Newborns require 14 to 17 hours a day. I bet that seems like a lot, but when you’re napping all day, it really doesn’t take long to accumulate.
- One year olds require approximately 10 hours a night plus 4 hours of nap during the day. The naps can be split up in the morning and afternoon but it’s important they get a total of 14 hours of sleep a day.
- Two year olds should get approximately 11 to 12 at night with a 1 to 2 hour nap during the day, totalling 13 hours a day.
- Three to five years and they require 10 to 13 hours a day. They may not take a nap, and just sleep the entire night.
- Six to thirteen years and you’re looking at 9 to 11 hours a night.
- Fourteen to seventeen and 8 to 10 hours are required.
- Hit your eighteenth birthday and celebrate with 7 to 9 hours a night for the rest of adulthood!
The Stages of Sleep
As you may have known, there are different stages: Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, and the rapid eye movement (R.E.M) Stage (click here). And your brain runs the show!
In this stage, you’re in the lightest form of sleep. You can be woken easily but your body and brain are drowsy. Many people, such as myself, experience the sensation of falling during this stage, waking themselves up. This stage usually lasts less than 10 minutes.
A deeper sleep, your brain gives direction for your muscles to relax, including your heart, which will beat a little slower. You also breathe a little slower and your body temperature drops a smidge. This stage lasts between 30 and 60 minutes.
Now you’re in a deep sleep known as slow-wave sleep, the most restorative stage of sleep. Your brain signals again and your blood pressure drops a bit. It’s very difficult to be woken from this stage of sleep. Both sleepwalking and sleeptalking occur during this stage. Your body also won’t respond to temperature changes in this stage, meaning your spouse can now steal all the blankets and you won’t notice. This stage lasts 20 to 40 minutes.
The muscles everywhere else in your body are relaxed, but the eye muscles are in action. They move back and forth very quickly beneath your eyelids. This stage is known as the dream stage, where you have very realistic dreams. Your heart may beat faster and your breathing may be irregular to accommodate those lifelike dreams, but your brain paralyses your muscles so you don’t act out what you’re dreaming. You can be woken easier in this stage than in Stages 2 or 3.
These stages of sleep allow your brain to complete the tasks that are needed. Your brain repeats these stages every one to two hours or so until you wake up. For adults, the cycle is repeated three to four times a night. For children, about four or five sleep cycles can occur in a night because they spend more time in R.E.M. sleep than adults. Now you can see why sleep is not exactly resting!
How to Get Your Sleep
Now that we know the importance of sleep, here are a few tips on how to get those much desired ZZZs. These tips are great for both parents and children!
Go to bed at the same time every night. The circadian rhythm, developed by the 24 hour clock that is the rotation of the Earth, is programmed in to all living things. The human clock (our brains) signal drowsiness during the afternoon (napping is normal, even for adults!) and in the evening. For many of us with work schedules or school, napping isn’t feasible, so setting our own programs to the same time every day is the next best thing.
Follow a bedtime routine that is relaxing. Watching TV, playing video games, or staring at a computer is false light and can trick our bodies into thinking it’s the wrong time of day. As well, playing energetic games boosts our blood pressure and hormones into gear, not helping our brain motion towards its sleep signals. Complete a calming, nightly routine, such as having a bath or reading a book to assist your brain in running the program.
Remove or limit caffeine. Coffee, soda, and even iced tea contain caffeine, which is a stimulant affecting your brain’s ability to synthesize the correct hormones for sleep and even normal function.
Speak with your doctor if stress is affecting your sleep. Stress can have negative effects on all daily functions. It can double the negative effects if you are also losing stress-reducing sleep as well.
For more sleeping tips, especially ones for children, click here.
Have a Wonderful Sleep
Although some of the mysteries of sleep still elude us, I hope you won’t lose any sleep over them! Check out the links I’ve included within the text to learn more. As we saw, sleep is deeply important, so I hope you and your family are able to sleep deeply tonight!