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Sleep Explained

What Is Sleep?

Sleep is a period of rest. But it isn’t just a time when your brain and body shut down. Your brain and body accomplish important tasks during sleep that help you stay healthy and function better when you’re awake.

Getting enough sleep helps you think more clearly and react more quickly. During sleep, your body produces hormones that help repair cells and tissues and fight off illness.

Not getting enough sleep can be dangerous, not only affecting your performance, but your health and mood, too. Studies show that not enough sleep may cause you to:

• Have a slower response time
• Take more risks or make unwise decisions
• Be irritable
• Behave poorly
• Have trouble with relationships
• Become depressed more easily
• Have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other medical conditions
• Become overweight

How Much Sleep Do I Need?

How much sleep you need depends on your age. Here are standard daily (or nightly) guidelines:

• Newborns: 16–18 hours
• Preschoolers: 11–12 hours
• School-aged children and teens: At least 10 hours
• Adults: 7–8 hours

Sleep Disorders

You may have a sleep disorder if it’s hard for you to fall asleep or stay asleep at night, or if you wake up feeling tired or feel exhausted during the day.

Common sleep disorders are:

Insomnia — Trouble falling or staying asleep; taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep each night; waking up too early in the morning
Sleep apnea — Disrupted breathing during sleep, which can involve snoring, gasping or choking
Restless legs syndrome — Creeping, crawling, tingling feelings in your legs or arms when you’re lying down; having legs or arms that jerk during sleep
Narcolepsy — A nervous system disorder that causes you to feel extremely sleepy or have “sleep attacks” during the day

If you have any of these sleep problems, see your health care provider.

How to Get to Sleep

If you have a hard time getting to sleep, try these tips:
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
• Relax before bed. Make it part of your bedtime routine.
• Take a hot bath before bed.
• Maintain a cool temperature in your bedroom.
• Remove sleep distractions from your bedroom, such as TV, noises or bright lights.
• Exercise no later than 2–3 hours before going to bed.
• Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
• Avoid alcohol before bed. While alcohol can help you get to sleep, it doesn’t help you stay asleep.
• Don’t eat or drink too much before bed so your sleep isn’t disturbed by indigestion or the need to urinate.
• Limit naps to no more than 1 hour — and don’t nap after 3 p.m.
• Get at least 30 minutes of natural sunlight each day. Daylight helps regulate sleep patterns.
• Don’t lie in bed awake. Get up and do some relaxing activity until you feel like sleeping.

Quick Reference

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Sleep Disorders

The Sleep Disorders Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is devoted to the evaluation and treatment of sleep disorders in patients of all ages.

Last Updated: 05-18-2016
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Disclaimer: The information on this website is for general informational purposes only and SHOULD NOT be relied upon as a substitute for sound professional medical advice, evaluation or care from your physician or other qualified health care provider.

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