How much sleep is there and why is it so important?

The human body is a kind of machine that burns energy from solid and liquid food. However, even if you don’t stop eating, if you don’t rest and get enough sleep, your body stops responding and sooner or later you get sick.

The most common sleep disorders are insomnia and night apnea . Insomnia is the manifestation of difficulty in achieving sleep or staying asleep, and indicates poor quality of sleep.

Several types of insomnia are recognized : when at bedtime sleep is elusive (initial insomnia); when you wake up after several hours (average insomnia); and when you wake up before the regular time, without being able to go back to sleep.

On the other hand, night apnea is the interruption of breathing during sleep. It can occur recurrently during sleep, even in extreme cases, it can lead to death by suffocation. Paradoxically, the adult individual sleeps, for every 24 hours, around 33.3% of that time. If it were projected in seventy years of life, it is thousands of hours in a practically unconscious state.

But, leaving aside these statistical details, these lines will address the importance of sleeping, its restorative qualities and the hours required to rest satisfactorily, according to the individual’s stage of life.

How long do you have to sleep?

The quality of sleep is an extremely important factor. While it is true that the recommended time for adults is 7 to 8 hours per night, sleep necessarily goes through several stages that must be met.

It is a fact that the dream of people over 60 years of age contrasts significantly with that of people in their twenties. With the passing of the years of life the dream varies and adapts to each subject, according to their age and lifestyle. In generic form, the average hours of sleep by age would be as follows:

  • In a newborn infant, sleep is approximately 18 hours.
  • A 4-year-old infant sleeps between 10 and 12 hours.
  • In the case of 10-year-olds, the hours of sleep are between 9 and 10.
  • In adolescents, the sleep period would be between 7.5 and 8 hours
  • An adult would be around 6.5 hours on average.

However, although the hours of sleep decline with age , the same does not happen with the time that the older adult spends in bed, whose sleep experiences the following problems:

  • The loss of deep sleep and Delta sleep. It is known that around 70 years of age Delta sleep decreases to 10% of total sleep. In contrast, in adolescents, Delta sleep reaches 15% to 25%.
  • Light sleep is extended, corresponding to phases I and II.
  • Sleep interruptions appear more frequently.
  • Frequent episodes of insomnia, night apnea, among others.

The reasons why older adults do not get a good sleep are diverse. It is regularly due to the ailments of age and the drugs that must be ingested, which cause insomnia among their side effects; to long naps during the day; to the lack of physical activity and the appearance of stress and anxiety due to family problems. One factor that should not be ignored is depression, caused by forced estrangement from the family nucleus.

Why is good sleep so important? 

Regarding the link between health and duration-quality of sleep , there seems to be a proportional relationship. Morbidity appears to be more frequent among subjects who sleep less than four hours and more than ten hours, compared to those who sleep between seven and eight hours.

Physical and psychological health in individuals who sleep between seven and eight hours tend to be better. The reality points to a decline in health towards short sleep patterns. In other words, the intermediate (normal) sleep pattern, characterized by its better efficiency, is followed by the long one and finally the short one, with very poor performance.

Reports indicate that sleeping about six hours and thirty minutes would still be within enough to maintain a healthy life. In other ranges, less than four or more than eight, the risks of early death increase. So sleepers by habit (in principle, without physiological or psychological pathologies) have a higher risk of suffering, in the end, cardiovascular diseases and cancer.

In short, quality sleep, that is, sleep that passes through the indicated phases, with their respective cycles, is related to comprehensive health. Delta sleep is linked to energy preservation, body repair and nervous system. And REM or REM sleep results in the maturation of the nervous system during development (in infants) and in the compartmentalization of memory and learning, as it also affects people’s good mood.

What happens if we don’t sleep well?

To understand the variable duration of sleep and health , it is important to explain the phases of sleep. Sleep is not an even and immutable process, it passes through a series of repetitive stages, in dissimilar sleep periods each time.

Studies of brain activity during sleep have reported various parameters related to movements and gestures, which are translated into the following sleep phases : phase I, II, III, IV (the latter two are called Delta sleep) and Sleep phase MOR (Rapid Eye Movements) or REM, for its acronym in English. Also, sleep phases are often classified as REM and Nrem sleep.

The first phase leads to light sleep, with less brain activity. It is a period that lasts about ten minutes at the most and begins the relaxation with a gradual closing of the connection with the environment. The second phase corresponds to the dream in progress, properly speaking. The brain waves in this phase are called “sleep spindles” and “k complexes.”

Consequently, phases III and IV (Delta sleep) follow, which already distinguish a deeper sleep. These phases last from thirty to sixty minutes on average. REM or REM sleep phase is characterized by rapid eye movements that repeat each time in each cycle. It begins with a short REM sleep, followed by longer ones.

REM sleep begins between ninety and one hundred minutes after the subject falls asleep; in children, this time is shortened. Dreams and increased blood pressure and cardio-respiratory rhythm are characteristic in this phase.

It is a phase of high brain activity (as if the subject were awake), in which strong brain oxygenation occurs, activating growth hormone. In adults, this hormone is responsible for repairing tissues. It is the necessary phase of sleep in its entirety, since it cleanses and orders the knowledge of the day and deeply recovers the body.

In this sense, during the night a person experiences between four and six sleep cycles , each containing the phases described above, but different. When the first phase of REM sleep ends, the first cycle ends as well. The mind restarts in phase I again.

Late at night, the REM phase of each cycle intensifies , going from five minutes at the beginning of sleep to twenty or thirty towards the end of the night. Statistics indicate that subjects who have a good sleep go through all its phases, within the parameters indicated below: 5% for phase I; 50% for phase II; 20% for phases III and IV; and 25% for the REM phase.

Despite the statistical information, good sleep is still a subjective matter, it depends on each organism . What is very clear is that each phase fulfills an objective and has a reason. In general, it is known that phases III and IV (Delta sleep) allow physical rest. And the REM phase facilitates brain regeneration and emotional stability.

Sleep patterns

Three groups of sleep patterns are recognized : the short, the long, and the intermediate. The first corresponds to an average of five and a half hours or less; the second, more than nine hours each day; and the third, seven to eight hours a day. A fourth sleep pattern could be added, the variable one, which would be distinguished by the mobility of the sleep duration habits.

According to statistical data, 75% of individuals sleep about seven or eight hours , which is considered a normal habit. Considering the eight-hour sleep pattern of a young person and that of people with a short or long sleep pattern, similar basic cycles and the same process are observed with respect to the sleep phases.

In a synthetic way, the components that make the difference, in the case of individuals with a long sleep pattern, is the less amount of slow wave sleep (SOL), more increase in phase I and II and rapid eye movements (phase MOR). On the other hand, individuals with a short sleep pattern show a reduction in phases I and II and REM.

Paradoxically, those with short sleep patterns achieve maximum sleep efficiency and it is reduced in individuals with long sleep patterns. In sum, evaluations indicate that people with long sleep patterns have less restful and less deep sleep (despite exceeding the proportion of REM sleep) than creditors of short and intermediate sleep.

Among the differentiating psychological traits , it has been hypothesized that people with a short sleep scheme are more outgoing, impulsive and self-confident. On the other hand, individuals with a long sleep pattern tended to have more psychopathological characteristics, an openly critical and nonconformist personality with respect to their environment, but they were more creative.

However, no sharp statements can be made, since, from side to side, there are similar and diverse personalities . And as for variable sleepers, with unstable dream patterns, the same factors, such as divorce, sadness, financial difficulties, etc., can interfere with sleep patterns, in certain groups it increases and in others it decreases . Regarding the relevance of superior intelligence in subjects with prolonged sleep patterns, there are no definitive conclusions.

What to do if you don’t sleep well?

In the first place, go to the family doctor, who will carry out the first studies and will give you the most appropriate indications, according to your age and state of health.

When it is insomnia, and it is worth adding that it has a multifactorial origin (anxiety, depression, sadness or pathologies or physical illnesses), two treatments are handled: psychological and pharmacological . Both indications could be combined.

Psychological therapies can address the cognitive, behavioral and contextual aspects of the individual, which are affecting the stages of sleep. The psychologist will try to reorient the different behaviors of the subject, according to a lifestyle conducive to a restful sleep.

Often times, emotional factors (anxiety, depression and / or stress) play against a good sleep. Combination therapies pay attention to these subjective disturbances.

Drug treatments are often used to support other therapies. And this is because chronic insomnia usually has a physiological basis. Only doctors are licensed to prescribe drugs aimed at treating insomnia, because they often have irreversible side effects, such as physical and psychological dependence.

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Alexa Clark specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She has experience in listening and welcoming in Individual Therapy and Couples Therapy. It meets demands such as generalized anxiety, professional, love and family conflicts, stress, depression, sexual dysfunction, grief, and adolescents from 15 years of age. Over the years, She felt the need to conduct the psychotherapy sessions with subtlety since She understands that the psychologist acts as a facilitator of self-understanding and self-acceptance, valuing each person's respect, uniqueness, and acceptance.

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