We spend, on average, approximately a third of our life asleep. Along with eating, drinking and breathing, sleeping is one of the pillars for maintaining good mental and physical health.
Sleep is a complex process during which our body undertakes several essential activities. It involves low awareness of the outside world, relaxed muscles, and a raised anabolic state which helps us to build and repair our bodies.
Whilst we sleep, our brain is not only strengthening memories but is also reorganising them, picking out the emotional details and helping us produce new insights and creative ideas.
In humans, the amount of sleep a person needs depends upon their age. New-born babies tend to sleep for an average of 16–18 hours per day, which decreases to about 13–14 hours after one year. Adolescents tend to require more sleep than adults, possibly due to the physiological changes that are happening in the body during this period.
As the person reaches adulthood they tend to sleep 7–8 hours per day. Older adults tend to sleep roughly 6–7 hours per day, but take more frequent naps throughout the day. The amount of time an average adult needs to sleep varies from person to person and can range between 5 and 11 hours.
There is clear evidence that sleep deprivation hurts emotion and performance. Sleep has an important restorative function in ‘recharging’ the brain at the end of each day, just like we need to charge a mobile phone battery after prolonged use. Maintaining a regular sleep-wake cycle allows the natural rhythm of the body to be reset every day and therefore optimises brain functioning.
Sleep and mental health are intertwined with each other. Missed sleep can lead to psychological and physical ill-health in many ways.
Psychological symptoms and effects include:
Physical symptoms and effects include:
Good sleep does not just mean getting a lot of sleep, but the right kind. It is important to get good-quality sleep and the following can help you get good sleep:
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