Sleep is a fundamental and vitally important process for daily function yet in today’s modern society it is often neglected. On average Australian’s will indulge in 7 hours of sleep during a week day and sometimes a little longer on weekends however there are some who struggle to achieve this amount. Our busy lifestyles, associated stressors and modern technology often to blame for our lack of sleep. But how much sleep should we really be getting and why is it so important?
To fully appreciate this, we first need to understand a little about the different phases of sleep. Sleep is often divided into two phases non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Whilst both phases occur periodically throughout the night NREM sleep is more common later at night in the early parts of slumber whilst REM sleep is more dominant in the early morning or later parts of sleep. Those who don’t get the recommended amount of sleep may be depriving themselves of the various benefits of these two phases. So, what are these benefits and are they really that important?
Let’s explore some of the proven effects of NREM sleep first and then REM sleep.
- Refinement of cognitive skills, reasoning and critical thinking (adolescents)
- Increased problem-solving capabilities
- Memory consolidation
- Enhanced learning capacity
- Reduction in physiological stress – through the calming of the sympathetic nervous system (especially a reduction in cardiovascular stress at night)
- Removal of metabolic contaminants within the brain by way of cerebrospinal fluid through the glymphatic system (like the lymphatic system within the body)
- Enhance motor-skills – increased speed and accuracy
- Develop/add neural connections (infants)
- Enhanced creativity
- Heightened problem-solving capabilities
- Superior comprehension of the social world
- Increased emotional acuity
- Improved decision making by identifying social and emotional cues
These are just some of the benefits of sleep. When you look at these benefits and the impact that these have on daily function and longevity it’s not hard to see why sleep is so important. Despite some controversy within the literature it is recommended that individuals get 8 hours of sleep a night and at the very minimum provide an 8-hour sleep opportunity.
If having difficulty sleeping it is recommended that you speak to your general practitioner or nearest sleep laboratory.
Anyone interested in learning more about sleep I would highly recommend reading Why We Sleepby Matthew Walker or visiting the national sleep foundation website https://www.sleepfoundation.org/or the Sleep Health Foundation website https://www.sleephealthfoundation.org.au/for more information.