The Sleep Discrepancy: How Much Sleep We Need and What We Actually Get

Sleep is incredibly vital to our everyday health.  The questions of why we sleep and in the manner we do (consolidated to approximately eight hours) has been accumulating and theories surround its “cleansing” and “restoring” properties have been coming to light.

Theories on Why We Sleep:

One theory suggests that sleep helps to clear our brains of unwanted toxins (Xie, L., Kang, H., Xu, Q., Chen, M., Liao, Y., Thiyagarajan, M., O’Donnell, J., Christensen, D.J., Nicholson, C., Iliff, J.J., Takano, T., Deane, R., & Nedergaard, M., 2013).

An additional theory hypothesizes that our brains have a limited capacity based on a 24-cycle which can only be restored through sleep (Nauert, 2010).  So, if we fall short an hour or two every night, you can imagine the cumulative effect on our cognitive functioning!

Why Are We Sleeping Less Than Before?

Nonetheless, the fact remains that we are all getting fewer hours of sleep than in generations before. Why?  Reasons can be explained by our longer work days that often continue well beyond the time we arrive home, easy access to distracting (albeit entertaining) modes of technology, more events and activities to attend, and an increasing academic workload for junior high and high school students, to name a few.

How Much Sleep Do We Really Need and How Much Are We Actually Getting?

In the school years (6-12), the recommended duration of sleep is between 11 to 12 hours.  Yet the incidence of sleep problems may be as common as 30-40% in children at any one time (Fricke-Oerkermann, L., Pluck, J., Schredl, M., Heinz, K., Mitschke, A., Wiater, A., & Lehmkuhl, G., 2007).  While likely to be transient and not in need of professional care, when the problem is persistent and clearly interferes with the child’s functioning, intervention is warranted.  It is best to begin with your pediatrician who can determine whether Melatonin (an over-the-counter supplement with sleep-enhancing properties), cognitive-behavior therapy, and/or a sleep study to rule-out medical conditions are warranted.

What About Teens and Sleep?

As I have mentioned in my previous blog: Teens and Sleep-How Technology Plays a Role in Restless Nights, adolescents are notorious for their poor sleeping habits and insufficient sleep.  While it is recommended that teens get 9 to 9.25 hours of sleep per night, the reality is closer to 7 hours on weekdays and 8.5 hours on weekends.  Clearly, these teens are not “catching up” on non-school days, creating an ever-increasing cumulative deficiency.  If you suspect that your teen is struggling with optimal sleep and is being negatively impacted as a result, first consider whether environmental factors (e.g., late-night cell phone use, late-night homework and study sessions, overscheduled nighttime activities, etc.) may be contributing and could be adjusted to make sleep a priority.  When this is not successful, recommendations are similar to those for school-age children and include speaking with your pediatrician about effective treatment options (Melatonin or other sleep-enhancing agents, cognitive-behavior therapy, and/or a sleep study to rule-out medical conditions).

To Summarize:

The fact is that our society is one that values hard work, grueling academic schedules, and an abundance of extra-curricular activities, which ultimately end up harming us when it comes to sleep.  It is time for the focus to be placed on sleep once again so that we are in a position to raise healthy adults who will pass on this wisdom.

Need help getting your family’s sleep on track?  Meet with our sleep specialist.

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