Fairview Park Hospital - February 22, 2016
by Lindsay Black

For more information or to take a virtual tour of our sleep center visit our sleep disorders page.

Why is sleep so critical to our well-being? If resting in bed were all it took to recharge body and mind for the coming day, insomniacs could take in their favorite late night television and start the next day fresh. But surprisingly, it's not how much sleep you get that's important - it's the level of sleep you achieve that truly restores you, body and mind.

Sleep can be divided into 2 crucial phases:

  • Non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep takes up about 75% of the average sleeper's night. The earliest phase of NREM sleep begins with general relaxation of muscles. This relaxed state eventually culminates in the deepest sleep level when it appears that protein synthesis, growth hormones, immune function, and the mind are given a boost. Delta waves - the slowest and largest waves - signal the onset of this most rejuvenating sleep level.
  • Rapid eye movement (REM) sleep takes up about 25% of an average dreamer's night. Dreams that occur during REM sleep might provide, in a sense, a sorting through of free-floating information. REM sleep is thought to be a very important period for mental revitalization.

Risky Consequences from Sleeplessness

In addition to productivity and safety consequences, research shows that people who have insomnia or are chronically sleep deprived may be more likely to have an increased risk of:

  • Depression
  • Headache and migraine
  • High blood pressure
  • Cognitive decline

People who do not get enough sleep may also:

  • Have behavioral problems
  • Drink more alcohol and use more sedatives than they usually do
  • Experience a decreased enjoyment in life

Who is Most Affected?

Late Shift Workers

Late or overnight healthcare, military and public safety workers, nuclear power plant operators, medical residents, and long-haul truck drivers, have work schedules that are contraray to the body's natural circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms dictate that the longest period of sleepiness occurs during the hours of 2:00-4:00am. Thus, people who work these shifts lose may out on the time that the body is programmed for the deepest and most beneficial sleep.

Older Adults

Older adults also cope with their own difficulties that keep them from getting the sleep they need. For many, aging brings on a host of health-related problems that interrupt sleep, such as pain from arthritis or other conditions, or side effects from medications. More than any other population, older adults rely on medications to manage multiple conditions. Moreover, a more sedentary lifestyle doesn't allow for the expenditure of energy that results in restful sleep. Lastly, the brain doesn't allow for the same degree of deep sleep per night as enjoyed in youth.

None of this means that the older adults don't need as much rest as everyone else. The combination of conditions that change sleep habits only indicates that adjustments need to be made in order to get the proper amount of sleep.

If you're troubled with chronic difficulties falling asleep - or staying asleep - see a doctor. Sleep disorders are very common and can be treated. Call (800) 447-0459 to make an appointment with one of our physicians today.