While many people today live with little sleep and have high daily demands, it is no surprise that many people in today’s culture live with sleep disorders and problems arising because of lack of sleep. The reasons why many people cannot sleep well or get to sleep are also very prevalent in today’s culture. Many research studies have been conducted and have found that there are many benefits to sleeping regularly and well. It is not quantity that matters so much as quality of sleep. Research has also been done to study the future of sleep and how that may affect people psychologically. The field of sleep psychology is advancing, and will surely change the way that people look at the importance of sleep.
In today’s society, a lack of sleep and high energy are accepted as the “norm”. However, how are we supposed to have high energy when we have such little amounts of sleep? It seems that people have lost sight of the importance of sleep on our mental and physical health. In this paper the discussions will include why we need sleep, what can be causes of poor sleep, problems caused by sleep deprivation and the future research on sleep in the field of psychology. I will discuss these topics to learn more about sleep and to promote others to learn and reconsider their own sleep schedules from what they learn in this paper.
Why People Need To Sleep: Previous Research
The first discussion to be understood is the research that has previously been collected on why we need sleep. It has been found that insufficient amounts of sleep cause many other problems than tiredness. As reported by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “most experts have concluded that getting enough high-quality sleep may be as important to health and well-being as nutrition and exercise” (2008). Seeing this high level of importance is enough to question the lack of sleep in America. Why, if it is so important, do so many people neglect it? Maybe it is the lack of time or the lack of information on this subject. For whatever reason people do not sleep, it will not only affect them physically, but also mentally. A new theory has suggested that “sleep helps us to process and consolidate new memories” (Stafford, 2012). The importance of sleep then not only affects humans externally, such as being tired or less active, but also internally, in our memory function. During sleep the brain does not rest; it forms connections and processes information. (National Sleep Foundation, 2011). If people do not get the rest that is required of their bodies, then the brain may not properly function, or may not make important connections. Humans also sleep because of the sleep-wake cycle that is included in everyone’s bodily functions. The sleep-wake cycle is a circadian rhythm, meaning that it takes place every day. This cycle is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain which releases melatonin, a natural sleep aid. (Ciccarelli & White, 2010, p. 199). In many recent sleep studies, it has been found that the optimal amount of time for increased longevity is six to seven hours a night for most people. (Glauser, 2012). The facts are simple; the more time you spend getting quality sleep at optimal periods will indefinitely increase your health overall. The need for sleep in everyday life is evident and everyone should listen to their bodies and rest. It will no doubt create positive benefits for the mind and body.
What Affects Sleep?
Second, the discussion of what can affect sleep negatively must be brought to the surface. The problems that Americans tend to face with sleeping enough, is the lack of time. In a study titled “Poor Sleep Challenging the Health of a Nation”, Mary Ellen Wells and Bradley V. Vaughn bring to light this issue when they state that many occupations such as shift work, long hours, manual work and high demanding jobs are major risk factors for increasing stress and sleep disturbances. (2012). This does not come as a surprise to many Americans, as most of them experience this type of sleep deprivation daily. More factors that come into play with sleep deprivation are the many types of sleep disorders. Disorders that commonly affect people’s sleeping habits are nightmares, sleep walking, narcolepsy, insomnia and sleep apnea. All of these disorders cause restless nights of sleep and often lead to problems with a good night’s rest. (Ciccarelli & White, 2010, p. 204-206). This leads to the discussion of the importance of sleep in the daily life of humans and the problems that can arise from a lack of sleep.
Sleep affects everyone either negatively or positively. Reasons for negative sleeping patterns have already been discussed, and the human need for sleep has been gone over as well. From these two points can be drawn the conclusion of the importance of sleep: Humans need sleep to be physically and mentally healthy and there are several factors that can affect the way and amount of sleep that humans will receive. But what happens when this advice is not taken to heart? What are the effects of not getting enough sleep on the human body? The amount of problems that are traced back to a lack of sleep is astounding. From heart health, to the inability to handle large amounts of stress, the effects of little sleep can be seen and will be discussed in the next section.
Results of Sleep Deprivation
It has been studied and proven that the less sleep people get the more likely that they will develop a number of medical conditions. Some medical issues that have been shown to correlate with a lack of sleep are obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and lower immune function. It has also been found that a severe lack of sleep can affect life expectancy and overall well-being. (Sleep and health, 2008). Another worrying fact is that the inability to handle stress increases with the less sleep a person gets. According to Tom Scheve, “Sleep deprivation wears down our normal capacity to deal with daily aggravations and challenges…While lack of sleep can augment stress, stress itself can lead to inadequate sleep.” Stress should be alleviated in any circumstance possible to receive larger amounts of sleep therefore eliminating more stress. There was an account of a man, Peter Tripp, who went eight days without sleep and experienced hallucinations and delusions while awake and suffered several other long-term effects. (Effects of sleep deprivation, 2012). In an article written by Michael J. Breus, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, it has been found that the poor quality of sleep can affect the rate of hypertension and depression among men and women (2012.) This fact is very enlightening. Could the quality of sleep matter just as much as the quantity? In this article and current research, it seems to be the case. So what can people do to increase their quantity and quality of sleep?
This section will discuss the habits that people can form now to increase lifelong sleep habits that will improve their overall health. Some tricks that have been found to improve sleep quality are sleeping at least seven hours, using the bed as a stimulus for sleep, positive thoughts about sleep, having a sleep routine and sleeping in a cool and dark environment. (Glauser, 2012). These are all things that have been proven to work in the past and are still very much affective. Some other affective techniques that the American Psychology Association suggests are to lessen the use of caffeine, don’t smoke near bedtime, avoid alcohol and heavy meals before sleep, get regular exercise and try to wake up without the use of an alarm clock. (Amount of sleep needed, 2012). All of these techniques may be adapted by anyone who is looking for a better quality of sleep, or help sleeping. But what can we expect in the future for our sleep aids? It can obviously get better, as sleeping remedies have been conjured up throughout history. The human race has gone from sleeping on the ground, to hay filled mattresses to memory foam and sleep-by-number beds. So what is next for the future of sleep?
The Future of Sleep
A look into the future of sleep was provided by a futurologist, Ian Pearson and Travelodge into the year 2030. Some of the projected accommodations will most likely be bed linens and mattresses embedded with electronics to make dreams feel real, learning new information, and the ability to link peripheral nervous systems through electronics to others that are away. Also available may be atmospheric temperature controls, broadcasting scents and colors to allow the simulations of new environments and augmented reality. (Edlund, 2011). Although these plans may seem wonderful, many are contemplating how they would affect the brain. Would they damage the brain in any way, would they cause memory problems or physical harm? No one can say as of yet, but the future of sleep looks interesting and bright. The changes in psychological patterns of sleep would definitely be altered if these changes were to occur in the normal sleeping situation. However, the reactions of nightmare and night terrors would most likely be amplified through the electronics that would be embedded in the mattresses, causing horrific detail and frightening situations. The psychological reparations to this new way of sleeping would undoubtedly be large and hard to counter.
In conclusion, all humans need sleep. It is not only the quantity that matters but also the quality of sleep. Without sleep, there are many repercussions of ill mental and physical health. Many sleep disorders can lead to issues with good sleeping habits, however with counseling and conditioning, this can be changed. There are also techniques that can be used by anyone, any time that will enhance the amount and quality of sleep. Although it may be difficult to set a new pattern for sleeping, it will be indefinitely beneficial and may even increase lifespan. Through this research, it is obvious that sleep is necessary and is able to be had for a reason.
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Ciccarelli, S.K., White, J.N. (2010). Psychology: an exploration. Boston: Pearson.
Edlund, M.J. (2011). Fantastic future sleep. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 6, 2012, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-power-rest/201106/fantastic-future-sleep
Effects of sleep deprivation. (2012). PsychologistWorld.com. Retrieved November 6, 2012, from http://www.psychologistworld.com/sleep/deprivation.php
Glauser, E., Glauser, A. (2012). Golden Slumbers. Psychology Today. Retrieved November 6, 2012, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/golden-slumbers/201210/increase-longevity-seven-hours-sleep
Scheve, T. (2011). 10 signs you may be sleep deprived. Discovery Fit & Health. Retrieved November 6, 2012, from http://health.howstuffworks.com/mental-health/sleep/disorders/10-signs-you-may-be-sleep-deprived.htm
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Stafford, T. (2012). Why do we need sleep? BBC Future. Retrieved November 6, 2012, from http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20120228-why-do-we-need-to-sleep
Vaughn, B.V., Wells, M.E. (2012). Poor sleep challenging the health of a nation.