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Sleep Care, Neurosciences, Mental Health

Reaping the Benefits of Sleep: Quality and Quantity Matter

When it comes to living a healthy lifestyle, most people think about diet and exercise, but sleep is equally important. As Pulmonologist and Sleep Medicine Physician David Jawahar, MD, explains, sleep plays a significant role in overall health and well-being, and sleep quality needs to be considered as much as sleep quantity.

“Some of sleep’s functions include removal of toxic waste, the consolidation of memory and the conservation of energy,” Dr. Jawahar said. That’s why getting enough sleep each night is necessary for optimal health. Dr. Jawahar says most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night. “Anything less than six or more than nine hours can be detrimental,” he said. “Older adults may be able to function on slightly less sleep, while children may need more depending on their age.”

When we sleep, we experience two main stages called NON-REM and REM. “When we first fall asleep we’re in the NON-REM stage. About 90 to 100 minutes later, we move into the REM stage,” explained Dr. Jawahar. “We stay in REM sleep for approximately 10 to 20 minutes before switching back to NON-REM. Each successive REM period lasts longer, and the final REM stage, which happens in the early hours of morning, could be as long as one hour. On average, most of us should experience three or four cycles of each sleep stage. This explains why most people require seven to eight hours of sleep each night.”

Each stage of sleep serves different roles in terms of promoting and maintaining health. Research suggests REM sleep is when the brain is very active and dreaming occurs. It’s also when the brain forgets the unnecessary pieces of information and remembers the necessary ones by consolidating our memory. NON-REM includes deep sleep, which is when most energy conservation happens.

To fully reap the benefits of sleep, quality is just as important as quantity. “If the quality of sleep is poor, this can affect daytime performance just as much as not getting enough sleep,” said Dr. Jawahar. In terms of sleep quality, there are several factors that can make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep. “Restlessness, underlying conditions such as sleep apnea and acid reflux, eating or exercising late at night, and certain medications are some common causes of poor sleep quality,” Dr. Jawahar said.

Lastly, Dr. Jawahar says new research emerges almost every day on the role and benefits of sleep in overall health and what steps we can take to make sure we maximize our efforts in this area. But for most of us, ensuring we get the average seven to eight hours of sleep each night and taking steps to address any factors that may be affecting the quality of our sleep can make a difference in our overall well-being.

If you’re having trouble sleeping, talk to your doctor. If you think a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea may be the reason, he or she may refer you for a sleep study. To learn more about the sleep studies offered at Bayhealth, visit Bayhealth's Sleep Care page or call 1-855-873-4177.

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