We all know that sleep is a vital part of our healthy survival. However, when deadlines loom, it is the first activity we neglect, skimping on the time we so desperately need for our nightly “body service”.
The best way to know if you are meeting your sleep needs is to look at how you feel in daytime. If you are logging enough sleep hours, you should feel energetic and alert all day long, from the moment you wake up until your regular bedtime. If you are one of those battling to stay awake during meetings or long hours at work, or if you keep your wife awake with your snoring at night, you might be suffering from sleep deprivation.
Sleep is not merely a time when your body shuts off. While you rest, your brain stays busy, overseeing biological maintenance that keeps your body running in top condition, preparing you for the day ahead. Without enough hours of restorative sleep, you will not be able to function at a level even close to your true potential.
It is possible to be sleep deprived without knowing it. Most of the signs of sleep deprivation are much more subtle than falling asleep in front of the TV. Chances are that you have become so used to your sleep deprived state that you may not remember what it feels like to be truly wide-awake, firing on all cylinders.
Lack of sleep affects your judgment, coordination, and reaction times. It is said that sleep deprivation can affect you as much as being drunk. You may not be noticeably sleepy during the day but losing even one hour of sleep can affect your ability to think properly and respond quickly. It also compromises your cardiovascular health, your energy balance, and ability to fight infections. Researchers warn that neglecting your nightly “body maintenance” could cause a major mental or physical breakdown.
While sleep requirements vary slightly from person to person, most healthy adults need between 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function at their best. Children and teens need even more. And despite the argument that our sleep needs decrease with age, most older people still need at least 7 hours of sleep.
It is also the quality of sleeping hours that count. If you wake up tired after eight hours of sleeping, have trouble waking up in the morning or staying alert all day, you may not be spending enough time in the different stages of sleep, especially deep sleep (the time when the body repairs itself and builds up energy for the day ahead) and mind and mood-boosting REM sleep.
Sleep deprivation can even add to your waistline. When you are tired it is normal to crave sugary foods that give you a quick energy boost. Two hormones in your body regulate normal feelings of hunger and fullness. Ghrelin stimulates appetite, while leptin sends signals to the brain when you are full. However, when you do not get the sleep you need, your ghrelin levels go up, stimulating your appetite to want more food than normal, and your leptin levels go down. This means that you do not feel satisfied and want to keep eating. So, the more sleep you lose, the more food your body will crave.