We no longer think of sleep as just a few hours of downtime. We know there are different stages of sleep and that they are all important for optimum health.
You brain does not just shut off for the night, it is performing other chores, ones that do not get done during your waking hours. Some of the sleep hours are more restful than others, but all the different stages are important.
When you cut your rest short you are not allowing the brain to complete the entire cycle. This results in you being tired, stressed and unable to concentrate. It can be dangerous also, especially if you are on the road driving.
We all have different sleep needs, and these needs change with our age. For adults the norm is 7-8 hours. As we grow older most of us feel the need for more sleep and this often gets managed in the form of naps. Newborns are the most sleep demanding needing 16-18 hours a day. By the time preschool comes around it's down to 10-12. Teenagers will never admit it but they should be getting at least 9 hours.
Sleep matters on two different levels, the quantity and the quality. Your mind needs the proper time to go through the different cycles. This is best accomplished with uninterrupted sleep.
Quality sleep is needed for us to be able to think clearly. Our abilities to react quickly and to create lasting memories are also effected by sleep. Studies have shown people are able to do better at mentally challenging tasks and creative problem solving when they are well rested. That is pretty much common sense, but the studies do back it up. If you want to do really good on that test tomorrow, study just before bed and then get a good nights sleep.
The studies also show, and again they back up common sense, that cutting back on even one hour of sleep can cause problems for you the next day. You will have a more difficult time focusing and your response time will be slower. You will also be more likely to make bad decisions and possibly take more risks.
Cranky And Irritable
Do you know someone you just don't want to be around when they are tired? Sure, we all do. Most of us are probably saying, "ya my spouse". And they are probably saying the same about you. All most all of us get cranky when we are tired. Tired teenagers can actually be the worst. I've raised a few and know this to be true. I can always tell if one of my daughters is short even an hour on her previous nights sleep.
Lack of sleep can go deeper than just making you irritable. If it continues, and becomes chronic, depression could soon follow. Then the vicious cycle begins. You are to depressed to sleep and you aren't sleeping so you are depressed. You don't have to let it get this far.
Good health is a pretty simple straight forward process, in most cases. You eat a healthy diet, you get plenty of exercise and you get the right amount of sleep. Pretty simple actually. You mess with anyone of these and you start having problems.
Lack of sleep can be the direct cause of high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as other medical conditions. The same can be said for eating junk food all the time, instead of real food. And the same can be said for not getting enough exercise, they are all equally important.
Hormones are released during sleep. Growth hormones help our kids to grow and help to repair tissues in adults. Other hormones fight infection. Why do you think the doctor says "take two of these and go to bed?"
One hormone released during the sleeping hours affects how the body uses energy. People who frequently do not sleep enough are more likely to be obese. They will also prefer eating food high in carbohydrates and calories.
The three aspects of good health are so closely woven together. We hear that lack of sleep could cause obesity, we also know that obesity can cause lack of sleep. It's also well known that regular exercise will help you sleep better, but lack of sleep will make you not want to exercise. All three parts of good health are equally important and need to be kept in balance.
We all have a biological clock, it's a little bundle of nerves that tell the brain when it should be sleepy or alert. This clock can be changed, or trained, but it takes a little time and should be done a little at a time.
Night shift workers no this first hand. The first few weeks can be miserable because you do not sleep well during the day and you are tired all night. It takes time for the brain to adjust to this new pattern, one that goes against everything everything it's been trained to do.
Some will adjust, over time, to the night shift. Others never do and if they continue to work nights they could be facing serious problems down the road. Some of these problems might be emotional, digestive disorders and heart disease. If you find your brain not adjusting to this new sleep pattern, you may consider switching back to days, it could be a lot healthier for you.
Travelers feel the same thing and it's called jet lag. The difference is this goes away after a few days where as the night shift goes on and on. Another problem posed by the night shift is your weekends off, or whatever days you have off. Some will keep the same schedule, sleep during the day and stay up all night. But that's not a lot of fun, especially if you have a family wanting all of your time. So your schedule gets all out of whack.
Other related pages at Relax and Sleep