Sleep and You

How We Sleep and the Effects of Lack of Sleep

A good night’s sleep is important for maintaining good health throughout your entire life. Consistently waking up feeling rested and refreshed can impact everything from your physical and mental health to your overall happiness. For many, achieving a restful night of sleep can be difficult. In the United States alone, more than 40 million people are living with a diagnosed sleep disorder, and many more remain undiagnosed.

If you continuously wake up feeling drowsy, are irritable, or have noticed that your coordination is getting worse, you might be suffering from sleep deprivation brought on by a sleeping disorder. Take our two minute quiz to find out if you might have sleep apnea or other sleeping disorder.

Start the Sleep Apnea Quiz

If you believe you may have a sleeping disorder or have already been diagnosed, understanding the importance of sleep and the effects of a lack of sleep on your life is essential. To help you learn more, we’ve put together this informative guide about the basics of sleep and sleep health. Keep reading to discover:

  1. What is sleep?
  2. What are good sleep habits?
  3. How long should I be sleeping every night?
  4. Why sleep is important for men
  5. Why sleep is important for women
  6. Why sleep is important for children

What is Sleep and Why Do We Need it?

The average person spends 1/3 of their life asleep, and yet, many of us don’t know why it’s so important. Sleep is necessary for your survival, and for nearly every animal’s survival. In fact, scientific studies have been conducted on sleep requirements, and have found that rats kept without sleep for two or three weeks die just as if they hadn’t been given food or water[1]. Clearly the effects of a lack of sleep can have very serious consequences. This raises two important questions: what are our bodies and brains doing during sleep? And why is the process of sleep so integral to our health? 

The Brain and Body During Sleep

It’s not uncommon to think of sleeping as a time of inactivity, but this isn’t the case. During certain sleep stages your brain is working just as hard as it would if you were awake!

Meanwhile, many physical effects occur to your body during sleep. Your temperature decreases by about 1 to 2 degrees, breathing becomes more regular, and your heart rate and blood pressure decrease. Though most bodily functions, like kidney function, decrease during sleep, certain processes, like the production of growth hormones, actually increase.

The Different Types of Sleep

The time we spend asleep is divided into two main categories:

  • NREM (non rapid eye movement)
  • REM (rapid eye movement)

NREM Sleep

There are three stages of NREM sleep. These stages make up the bulk of our time asleep (about 70% to 75%). As we work our way through these stages of sleep, our brain function decreases. 

  • Stage 1: This is a light, transitionary phase between sleeping and wakefulness. Nodding off is not uncommon during this stage, and there’s a good chance that when you wake up, you may not even realize you were asleep. 
  • Stage 2: This stage represents the beginning of deep sleep, with intermittent bursts of brain activity. While dreaming is possible at this stage, it’s typically uncommon.
  • Stage 3: Also known as “slow wave sleep”, stage 3 is the deepest sleep stage. During this stage of sleep your brain activity moves up and down in synchronized waves. If you’re having trouble waking someone up, they are probably experiencing stage 3 NREM sleep.

REM Sleep

For the remaining 25% to 30% of time we spend sleeping, we experience REM sleep. During REM sleep, the brain is more active than during NREM sleep and can even rival our waking brain activity. This is the sleep stage where you’re most likely to have dreams, your heart rate increases, your muscles become paralyzed, and your eyes twitch in various direction (which is actually where the name REM comes from).

Why Do We Need Sleep?

Despite all the research done over the years, scientists still don’t definitively know why we need sleep. They do know that most higher-level animals sleep and dream, but the specifics of why remain unclear. However, there are some plausible theories that scientists are looking into further, such as:

We Sleep to Restore Our Bodies and Brains: When we work hard, we tire more quickly and need to sleep more often. This supports the idea that sleep is a recuperation period for our brains and bodies. Sleep gives our bodies, organs, and brain some time to rest, conserve energy, and repair themselves.

It’s an Adaptation: It’s thought that sleeping may actually be a way of keeping us safe. When it’s dark, there’s a higher risk of getting injured by predators or environmental dangers. Sleeping is something we do to mitigate the risk of coming face to face with a nocturnal predator or taking a wrong turn in the dark and injuring ourselves.

During sleep, we also metabolize energy slower. In situations where gathering resources is difficult, sleep provides a way to conserve energy during periods where searching for food would be inefficient.

Sleep Strengthens Your Brain: Scientists have found that sleeping is very important in developing the brain, especially in children and infants, who can sleep as much as 14 hours per day. Even the fact that we begin to feel impaired and forgetful when sleep-deprived is evidence of how important it is to our mental health. 

One Thing We Know for Certain: Sleep is Essential

While we may not know exactly why sleep is important, we know that the effects of a lack of sleep can have serious impacts on both our mental and physical health. If you’re having trouble sleeping, our sleep experts can determine why and help you get back on the right sleep track!

Request a referral to a Sleep Specialist

What are Good Sleep Habits?

Routines are important in our everyday lives—and the same goes for bedtime. By sticking to a dedicated sleep schedule and improving our nighttime routines, we can make the most of the time we spend in bed. There are some basic steps that everyone can take to make sure they are getting the best sleep possible, night after night, including:

1. Set a Regular Sleep Schedule

Waking up and going to bed at the same time every day helps you take advantage of your body’s natural 24-hour internal clock, also known as a circadian rhythm. This body clock helps to ensure you’ll be tired when you lie down to go to sleep at night and ready to wake up and face the day in the morning. Studies have shown that people who follow a regular sleep schedule feel more alert and less sleepy during the day than those who sleep for the same duration but don’t follow a schedule[2]. Try to establish a schedule that works for you and makes sure that you are getting the sleep you need. If you can, maintain your schedule (roughly) on weekends, even if the temptation is there to stay up late and then sleep in!

2. Create Good Habits at Bedtime

Don’t underestimate the power of habit. Establishing a bedtime routine that is both relaxing and consistent will help you wind down and let your body know that it’s time to sleep. Some pre-bed habits routines we recommend include: 

  • Taking a hot shower
  • Reading a book 
  • Doing bedtime yoga

Activities such as these can effectively lower stress, and the less stress you feel, the easier it is to fall asleep.

When you pick up good habits, it’s also important to drop bad ones. So when it comes to bedtime, disconnect from your electronics. Your phone, television, and laptop all emit light that decreases melatonin production, a hormone naturally produced by your body to help you sleep. These lights trick your body into being awake and alert, making it more difficult to fall asleep, and potentially leading to an overall lighter night of sleep.

3. Create a Relaxing Bedroom Environment

Your bedroom should be a space that encourages a comfortable, complete night’s sleep. Take some time to make sure your bedroom is conducive to sleep. 

  • Keep it Cool: A cool room is best for sleeping, and The National Sleep Foundation recommends bedroom temperature be set at 65 degrees. When we sleep, our bodies naturally cool off, and reaching our optimal sleeping temperature as quickly as possible can help encourage a deeper sleep. 
  • Keep it Quiet: Loud noises can be distracting when you’re trying to sleep. We recommend using a white noise machine, fan, or sound conditioner to block these noises. 
  • No Electronics in the Bedroom: The urge to check your phone one last time before bed might be strong, but the need for a good sleep is stronger! Don’t worry—your messages will still be there when you wake up.
  • Remove Any Other Distractions: Work, television, pets, or anything else disruptive or not related to sleeping should be left outside the bedroom. 

With these tips, you’ll quickly find your bedroom transformed into a sleeping sanctuary.

4. Follow Good Lifestyle Habits Throughout Your Day

Good habits are important throughout your day, and can also help lead you to a healthy lifestyle, and a great night of sleep. Our sleep doctors recommend you:

  • Exercise: Going for a walk, hitting the gym, or playing a game of pick-up with friends can lead to a more restful night. Be sure to exercise at least a few hours before you go to bed so your body has time to wind down.
  • Stay in Shape: Maintaining an ideal body weight is important for your personal health and happiness. Being overweight or obese can lead to health issues, including sleep apnea, a serious sleep disorder.
  • Avoid Smoking: There’s no doubt about it, smoking is bad for your health. People who smoke experience more disturbed sleep and are significantly more likely than non-smokers to report non-refreshing sleep[3].

5. Eat Carefully Before Bed

There’s nothing wrong with a midnight snack, as long as you remember that some options are better than others! For example, drinking milk or eating some crackers can help you nod off, but fat-filled or spicy food can keep you up regretting your decision. Here is our list of foods that are great before bed:

  • Milk
  • Turkey
  • Oats
  • Peanuts
  • Tuna
  • Yogurt
  • Eggs
  • And carbohydrates such as rice, quinoa, bread, and barley

These foods are high in tryptophan, a chemical that increases your brain’s production of melatonin and and serotonin, both of which can help you sleep.

Foods you’ll want to avoid before bed include:

  • Caffeine
  • Cheese
  • Pork
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Processed deli meats
  • Wine
  • Spicy foods
  • And foods that are high in fat 

These foods contain stimulants or may cause an upset stomach that can keep you up throughout the night.

Remember, whatever you eat, it’s important to monitor the quantity of food you consume during the day. Overeating can upset your stomach and keep you up at night, while undereating can lead to late night rumblings that disturb your sleep!

6. Avoid Stress

Stress can have a major impact on your sleep, which is why it’s important to keep it in check, especially around bedtime. A relaxing routine as you’re getting ready for bed can help with this. Whatever you do, it’s important that sleep is prioritized, especially if you’re stressed. Less sleep will only leave you feeling exhausted, anxious, and even more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle. Focusing on your sleep can help you break out of this cycle and get back to feeling like yourself.

7. Don’t be Afraid to Talk to Your Doctor

Not every sleep issue can be solved by a helpful set of tips. If you’re experiencing chronic irregular or insufficient sleep, it’s important to consult with an experienced sleep doctor. You may be one of the 40 million Americans currently suffering from a sleep disorder that is impacting your health and happiness. 

Do you think you might have a sleep disorder? Request a referral to a sleep specialist and we can recommend a sleep specialist in your area.  Request a referral to a Sleep Specialist.

How Long Should I Sleep Every Night?

It should come as no surprise that different people need different amounts of sleep to effectively function. To help you get a better idea of how much sleep you need per day, the National Sleep Foundation has compiled this helpful chart:

Age GroupRecommended Sleep TimeMay be Appropriate
Newborns (0-3 months)14-17 hours11-19 hours
Infants (4-11 months)12-15 hours10-18 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years)11-14 hours9-16 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years)10-13 hours8-14 hours
School-aged kids (6-13 years)9-11 hours7-12 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years)8-10 hours7-11 hours
Young adults (18-25 years)7-9 hours6-11 hours
Adults (26-64 years)7-9 hours6-10 hours
Older adults (65 years or greater)7-8 hours5-9 hours

While this chart provides a general idea of how much sleep you should be getting, it’s not enough to use an objective number to determine if you are getting the right amount of sleep. You need to assess your own energy level and your drowsiness on a daily basis. To help, here is a little test we’ve put together to determine if you’re sleeping enough:

  • Do I wake up naturally in the morning, or do I have to drag myself out of bed?
  • Do I rely on caffeine or other stimulants to function?
  • Do I muddle through sleeping during the week with hopes of catching up on the weekends?
  • Do I suffer from lack of concentration, interest, energy, or memory?
  • Am I drowsy during the day?
  • Do I tend to fall asleep in quiet situations or nod off while driving?
  • Do I fall asleep as soon as I get in bed?

If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you probably need more sleep! 

If you’re already sleeping an appropriate amount every night and still find yourself exhibiting these symptoms, you may have a sleep disorder and should speak to one of our experts.

Request a referral to a Sleep Specialist.

Men, Women, And Sleep

Sleep is different for men and women, and each have significant differences in sleep cycles and sleep disorder risks.

Men and Sleep

Men Get Less Sleep Than Women, but Report Fewer Sleep Disturbances

According to objective data, men get less sleep overall than women[4], and the sleep they do get is of a lower-quality. When men sleep, they spend less time than women in deeper sleep stages, are subject to lower sleep efficiency, and experience more stimulation throughout the night[5]. This is an issue for many men because sleep is vital to staying mentally and physically alert and aware during your waking hours.

Even though men get fewer sleeping hours and spend less time in deep sleep stages, they report sleeping better than women. Subjective surveys report that men perceive themselves as having a higher quality of sleep than their female counterparts[6]. Men are also less likely to report the effects of insomnia[7]. While this seems to indicate that men are likely to experience sound sleep when their heads finally hit the pillow, it also suggests that they may not be paying attention to potential sleep disruptions.

Men Face an Increased Risk of Sleep Apnea

Men are twice as likely to have or develop this serious sleep disorder[8]. This is because many men tend to have thicker necks and accumulate more fat around the throat, which increases the risk of the airway being blocked off during sleep. In fact, simply being a middle-aged man can put you at risk for sleep apnea. Some common symptoms of sleep apnea include:

  • Loud snoring
  • Waking from sleep due to a sudden feeling of choking or gasping
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Headaches when waking up
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased interest in sex

Further to that last symptom, it’s worth noting that people with erectile dysfunction are more than twice than likely as their counterparts to have sleep apnea[9]. This is partially due to the fact that testosterone is produced at night, so poor sleep can lead to decreased testosterone levels. A study conducted at the University of Chicago showed that even in young men, a reduced sleep schedule resulted in a decrease in testosterone levels by 10% to 15%[10]. Testosterone levels decline naturally with age, and a lack of sleep can only further decrease production.

If you think you may be living with undiagnosed sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, contact your doctor.  If you would like us to contact your physician to start the process, complete this short form: Request a Home Sleep Test.

Women and Sleep

Women Sleep More Than Men, But Report More Sleep Disturbances

Across the board, women report getting more sleep than their male counterparts[11]. They also report better sleep quality, with more time spent in deeper sleep, and less stimulation throughout the night[12].

While this sounds like great news, it’s also important to know that in subjective survey after survey on sleep quality, women consistently report lower quality sleep than men[13], as well twice as many report feeling the effects of insomnia[14].

There are many reasons why many women experience better sleep, yet report more disturbances throughout the night. One of the most common is due to the natural changes to sleeping patterns that occur throughout a woman’s life. Oftentimes, these shifts in sleep patterns are related to hormonal changes. These changes typically occur during:

  • Puberty
  • Menstruation (33% of women report disrupted sleep as a result of having their period[15])
  • Pregnancy
  • And menopause

The onset of menopause can result in its own set of additional changes relating to a woman’s sleep health. For example, the prevalence of insomnia increases dramatically in post-menopausal women[16], as does the risk for obstructive sleep apnea[17].

Sleep Apnea is Underdiagnosed in Women

While sleep apnea is less prevalent in women than men, over 90% of women with sleep apnea are undiagnosed[18]—a staggering figure. One study estimates that women make up 1/3 of the people currently living with sleep apnea, but only 1/9 of them are tested patients[19].

So why the discrepancy when it comes to diagnosis? Sleep apnea is often represented as a man’s disorder, and screening has historically been geared towards men. Additionally, women living with sleep apnea tend to report a different set of symptoms then men, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Hypertension
  • Unrefreshing sleep
  • Fatigue
  • And depression

Sleep apnea is a serious disorder that impacts women as well as men. Unfortunately, the vast majority of affected women do not know they have it. If you chronically experience poor sleep and daytime sleepiness, or if you match any of the sleep apnea symptoms mentioned above, talk to our experts about a sleep study.

Request a Home Sleep Test

Good Sleep Can Increase Your Fertility

A good night’s sleep is important for women, especially if they are trying to conceive. One study[20] found that women undergoing in vetro fertilization (IVF) who got 7-8 hours of sleep a night were significantly more likely to conceive than those who got less than 6 or more than 9 hours.

Should you become pregnant, it’s crucial to continue prioritizing sleep. It’s natural to experience sleep disturbances during pregnancy. After all, the physical changes alone are enough to make alterations in your sleep pattern unavoidable. During this time it’s important to listen to your body and nap when possible, while also trying to get the recommended 8 hours per night. Your body, and your baby, will thank you.

Of course, even if you’re not trying to conceive, a good night sleep can also lead to increased libido in women[21]

Children and Sleep

The sleep patterns of children are much different than the sleep patterns of adult men and women. As they grow, these patterns will change and evolve, but through it all, the importance of getting the right amount of sleep is constant.

Children Need a Lot of Sleep

While the recommended hours vary by age, one thing is certain: sleep is critical for a child’s growth and development. As babies, children spend most of their time sleeping (about 14-17 hours a day). By the time they are teenagers, they need about 8-10 hours of sleep. The chart below shows the recommended sleep guidelines for children.

Age GroupRecommended Sleep TimeMay be Appropriate
Newborns (0-3 months)14-17 hours11-19 hours
Infants (4-11 months)12-15 hours10-18 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years)11-14 hours9-16 hours
Preschoolers (3-5 years)10-13 hours8-14 hours
School-aged kids (6-13 years)9-11 hours7-12 hours
Teenagers (14-17 years)8-10 hours7-11 hours

Regardless of their age, it’s important that your child is getting all the sleep they need in a comfortable, quiet environment. This is because their circadian rhythms, or internal clocks, are often built around having naps in the middle of the day. One study[22] showed that all it takes is missing one nap to impact a toddler’s ability to react to and enjoy their surroundings. During this study, toddlers that skipped their nap showed more negative responses to their surroundings, as well as a decreased ability to respond to puzzles. Skipping these naps can even contribute to sleep deprivation.

Sleep Disorders in Children

Sleep disorders are actually quite common in children, and include:

  • Night terrors (partial arousals from sleep accompanied by shouting or emotional outbursts)
  • Sleep walking
  • Nightmares
  • and Bedwetting

Adolescent children can also experience something called delayed sleep-phase disorder. The most notable symptom of this disorder is a desire to go to bed very late, resulting in difficulty waking up in the morning. The good news is that, most of the time, children grow out of these conditions.

Sleep Apnea and Children

Children are not immune sleep apnea, though the causes and symptoms may differ from adults. In children, one of the most common causes of sleep apnea is oversized tonsils or adenoids. In these cases, sleep apnea can often be cured by a tonsillectomy.

If you’re concerned your child has sleep apnea or another undiagnosed sleep disorder, speak to our child’s doctor or request a referral to one of our sleep specialists here: Request a referral to a Sleep Specialist. Children 16 and over may qualify for a home sleep test.  Younger children may need to be tested at an overnight sleep center.

A Happy, Healthy Life Begins With a Good Night’s Sleep

Regardless of your age or gender, waking each morning refreshed and ready for your day allows you to better focus, improves your relationships with co-workers and loved ones, and reduces your risk of health issues caused by the effects of a lack of sleep. 

If you or a family member are having trouble sleeping, or feel excessively tired after a full night’s sleep, you may be living with an undiagnosed sleep disorder. The good news is that with proper diagnosis and treatment, you can start living life to the fullest again. For nearly all patients, the first step is a Home Sleep Test.  Take the first step towards better sleep – Request a Home Sleep Test.

[1] Everson, CA et. al. “Sleep deprivation in the rat: III. Total sleep deprivation.” Pubmed Central.

[2] Manber, R. et. al. “The Effects of Regularizing Sleep-Wake Schedules on Daytime Sleepiness.” Published in Sleep Journal. 

[3] Lin Zhang, MD, PhD et al. “Power Spectral Analysis of EEG Activity During Sleep in Cigarette Smokers.” Chest Journal. 

[4] Charts from the American Time Use Survey. “Average sleep times per day, by age and sex.” Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[5] Susan Redline, MD, MPH, et. al. “The Effects of Age, Sex, Ethnicity, and Sleep-Disordered Breathing on Sleep Architecture.” Journal of the American Medical Association.

[6] Krishnan V, et. al. “Gender differences in sleep disorders.” Medline.

[7] Hale Lauren, et. al. “Does mental health history explain gender disparities in insomnia symptoms among young adults?” Pubmed Central.

[8] Medical News Today. “Studies Link Quality Of Sleep To Erectile Dysfunction, Other Urologic Conditions.” Reporting on the study “Erectile Dysfunction Is Independently Associated With Sleep Apnea In A Large Population Of Middle-Aged Men”, presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA). 

[9] Medical News Today. “Studies Link Quality Of Sleep To Erectile Dysfunction, Other Urologic Conditions.” Reporting on the study “Erectile Dysfunction Is Independently Associated With Sleep Apnea In A Large Population Of Middle-Aged Men”, presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Urological Association (AUA). 

[10] Rachel Leproult, PhD, et. al. “Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men.” The Journal of the American Medical Association. 

[11] Charts from the American Time Use Survey. “Average sleep times per day, by age and sex.” Bureau of Labor Statistics.

[12] Susan Redline, MD, MPH, et. al. “The Effects of Age, Sex, Ethnicity, and Sleep-Disordered Breathing on Sleep Architecture.” Journal of the American Medical Association.

[13] Krishnan V, et. al. “Gender differences in sleep disorders.” Medline. 

[14] Hale Lauren, et. al. “Does mental health history explain gender disparities in insomnia symptoms among young adults?” Pubmed Central.

[15] Young, T. et al. “Estimation of the clinically diagnosed proportion of sleep apnea syndrome in middle-aged men and women”. Europe PubMed Central.

[16] Young, T. et al. “Estimation of the clinically diagnosed proportion of sleep apnea syndrome in middle-aged men and women”. Europe PubMed Central.

[17] Punjabi, Naresh M. “The Epidemiology of Adult Obstructive Sleep Apnea.” Pubmed Central.

[18] Young, T. et al. “Estimation of the clinically diagnosed proportion of sleep apnea syndrome in middle-aged men and women”. Europe PubMed Central.

[19] Mallampalli, Monica P. et al. “Exploring Sex and Gender Differences in Sleep Health: A Society for Women’s Health Research Report”. Journal of Women’s Health.

[20] Borland, Sophie. “Trying for a baby? Get seven hours sleep every night and go to bed and get up at the same time each day.” The Daily Mail. Reporting on the work of Dr. Daniel Park from the University of South Korea. 

[21] David A. Kalmbach PhD, J. Todd Arnedt PhD, Vivek Pillai PhD, Jeffrey A. Ciesla PhD. “The Impact of Sleep on Female Sexual Response and Behavior: A Pilot Study”

[22] Berger, Rebecca H. et al. “Acute sleep restriction effects on emotion responses in 30- to 36-month-old children.” University of Colorado, Boulder.