In a world of 24-hour grocery stores, late-night television and instant communication, getting enough rest becomes more of an afterthought in today’s society, though it is essential for functioning daily and keeping healthy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one quarter of Americans said they do not get enough sleep. The consequences of this can lead to more than just being tired the next day, but serious health complications that can result in death, said Robert Aronson, medical director of Cardinal Sleep Disorder Centers.
“Typically sleep does not get a lot of respect,” Aronson said. “[It is] taken for granted, and there are many people who are chronically sleep-deprived.”
Getting enough rest restores our body functions, improves mental health and prevents common disease, according to Tina Jenkins, director of clinical sleep programs for Merit Sleep Management.
“Sleep is just essential, if not more than food and water,” Jenkins said. “Each stage of sleep has a purpose; it is what keeps us healthy.”
Jenkins said the deep stage of sleep is where the immune system repairs itself from daily strains, and the dream state of sleep is what aids in restoring mental health.
“Can you imagine being conscious for every thought you have during the day or everything you visually see? It would drive us crazy,” Jenkins said. “The dream state is your brain processing, making some sort of sense of priorities.”
Dreaming can begin within the first 90 minutes of sleep, lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. Jenkins said as the night progresses, dreams become longer and more intense.
“Your dream state is a very active stage of sleep when your blood pressure is irregular, your breathing is irregular and your heart is racing,” Jenkins said.
The stage of sleep where dreaming occurs is known as the REM cycle, or rapid eye movement. David Schwartz, diplomat for the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine, said by not getting enough REM sleep or experiencing frequent interruptions during this stage can result in memory impairment.
“Your brain does not function well,” Schwartz said. “You are not as alert during the day and you are not able to process that information as well.”
Jenkins said night terrors can disrupt this sleep cycle, occurring in the deepest, most restorative sleep. Although seen often in children, night terrors are not uncommon among college students and are provoked by high stress and sleep deprivation.
“Someone who is having a night terror will awake right away with their eyes open, very frightened,” Jenkins said.
Schwartz said drugs and alcohol can affect the way people function when they sleep, specifically the REM cycle.
“It can delay it into the early morning hours,” Schwartz said. “So [I have] patients that come in REM suppressed.”
The CDC recommends seven to nine hours of sleep for adults, but Aronson said the time could vary by individual, but keeping those numbers in mind as a basis of how much sleep one should get.
“We typically define it as the amount of sleep required for an individual to function well and feel refreshed,” Aronson said.
He said in extreme cases there are long-term and short term sleepers. Long-term sleepers need 10 hours or more a night and short-term sleepers need five or less to be functioning well the next day. But on average, he said seven to eight hours is usually enough for a young adult.
In a busy society, Aronson does not see this trend of sleep deprivation changing.
“I see it worsening,” Aronson said. “We do a lot of things at night now we used to do during the day. It is getting worse,