Sleep: Why do we do it, and how can we improve it?

We’ve all been told the importance of getting a good night’s sleep; what exactly does that mean, though, and why should we prioritize our time around a process that seems so passive? This post will explore the why’s of sleep (why we need it, why we should prioritize it, why it’s integral for physical and mental wellness).

We sleep for how long?

According to the National Sleep Foundation, an adult between the ages of 26 and 64 years old should be getting between 7 to 9 hours of sleep. If you’re an individual who lives to the average life span of 79 years old, you will then be spending 26 years of your life asleep, and 7 years of your life simply trying to fall asleep! While at first glance this statistic may seem overwhelming, it can also serve as a reminder of the importance of sleep; after all, you will be spending more time sleeping than any other activity in your life.

Why the need for sleep? What are the benefits?

You might question the need for an activity that seems like a “waste of time”. However, the right quality and quantity of sleep can revolutionize both your physical and mental health. When we sleep, the human body restores and repairs cells and tissues that are damaged and destroyed. This restoration results in decreased physical pain, increased energy throughout the day, and improved mental alertness. Sleep also allows for the mental process of consolidation, where bits and pieces of mental information are transferred from more tentative, short-term memory to stronger, long-term memory. This process helps improve concentration, focus, memory, and emotional processing throughout the day. Finally, sleep promotes our bodies’ regulation of metabolism and body temperature, which then impacts our bodies’ ability to process food, regulate energy, and promote a healthy immune system.

Now what?

Unfortunately, knowing the importance of a good night’s rest doesn’t change our bodies’ ability to actually obtain the quantity and quality of sleep we need. In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll explore the how’s of sleep (how we can improve our sleep cycles, how we can implement healthy sleep hygiene routines, how to address insomnia).
Average Sleep Needs by Age​
 Age​ Hours Needed​ May be appropriate​
 Newborn to 3 months old​ 14 – 17 hrs​ 11 – 19 hrs​
4 to 11 months old​ 12 – 15 hrs​ 10 – 18 hrs​
1 to 2 years old​ 11 – 14 hrs​ 9 – 16 hrs​
3 to 5 years old​ 10 – 13 hrs​ 8 – 14 hrs​
6 to 13 years old​ 9 – 11 hrs​ 7 – 12 hrs​
14 to 17 years old​ 8 – 10 hrs​ 7 – 11 hrs​
Young adults (18 to 25 years old)​ 7 – 9 hrs​ 6 – 11 hrs​
Adults (26 to 64 years old)​ 7 – 9 hrs​ 6 – 10 hrs​
Older adults (65+)​ 7 – 8 hrs​ 5 – 9 hrs​
Source: National Sleep Foundation​
Sources for infographics: The HuffPost