Sleep is one of those things that joins us together as a species, because every single human needs it, regardless of their age, race, gender or nationality. The need for sleep is universal. The problem is that, for something that is a necessity for every human in the world, we don’t know a whole lot about it. We still are not completely sure why we need to sleep although the most common answer is that is offers restorative properties. It is estimated that we spend up to one third of our lives asleep, that’s a lot of time doing something that we don’t know why we’re doing it or if we’re doing it correctly.

Adolescence

Scientifically speaking the average adult needs around 7-9 hours of sleep a night, older adults tend to need slight less at 7-8 and teenagers require at least 10 hours. The reason that teenagers seem to need so much sleep is down to puberty. With the onset of puberty there are a multitude of hormonal and chemical changes happening in the body. These changes affect a teenager’s natural circadian rhythm making them sleepy later at night and prompting them to sleep in longer in the morning. Teenagers also seem to sleep brilliantly, it’s rare that you hear of a 16 year old having a lot of trouble sleeping. This is because the sleep they have is often very high quality. High quality or restorative sleep is also referred to as Non-REM, it’s a deep slow-wave dreamless sleep which is why it seems like mission impossible to wake any teenager up before 9am.

Adulthood

As we get older, the quality of the sleep we get changes and so do our sleeping patterns. Through the early 20’s the quality of sleep declines from the restorative deep sleep we get in our teens to the slightly less restorative middle sleep. It declines even further into older adulthood but that isn’t necessarily to do with age. Research has indicated that there is actually a much stronger link between health and sleep than there is age and sleep. So, the healthy you are, the better quality sleep you will have. As we get older, there will inevitably be more problems that ail us, whether that is respiratory problems, arthritis, muscle pain, weak bladder or restlessness, all of these things will disrupt the natural sleep-wake cycle prompting us to wake at least once a night and breaking up the restorative sleep we need. This is often why older adults will feel the need to nap during the day, as they don’t get enough good quality sleep during the night. The sleep cycle of older adults often regresses to that of a young child with frequent shorten periods of sleep rather than a large block of 8 hours.

However it not just lacking enough sleep that causes problems, sleeping too much can also be detrimental to health. Too much sleep over a prolonged period has been linked to increased levels of anxiety, an inability to concentrate as well as risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

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