Sleep is often thought of as downtime. However, your body and brain are hard at work while you sleep. We chatted with sleep specialist Sairam Parthasarathy, MD, professor of medicine and director of the Center for Sleep Disorders at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson, to learn about sleep’s impact on the brain and body.
Q: What does sleep do for brain health?
A: Sleep has a direct beneficial effect on brain function. During sleep, your brain is restored as it goes through processes to drain toxic proteins and waste, which improves its function.
Q: What does dreaming do for our health?
A: Dreaming is important to cognition – memory, learning and problem-solving.
Q: What happens if I don’t get enough sleep?
A: Lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk of all causes of death. This includes weight gain or obesity, diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks, heart failure and stroke.
Q: How much sleep do adults need? Kids? Teens? Toddlers?
A: In general, 7 hours or more of sleep per night. Men seem to need more sleep than women do, however, the need for sleep decreases as we age. For example, newborns sleep about 15 hours a day. Toddlers need around 12 hours, children about 10, while adolescents require an average of 9 hours of sleep.
Q: How can I get a good night’s sleep?
A: First, recognize the importance of sleep and protect your sleep time. Also, practice good sleep hygiene and create a pre-sleep routine:
- Don’t drink caffeine after midafternoon
- Skip drinking alcohol before bedtime
- Don’t eat dinner too close to bedtime
- Don’t read or watch TV in bed
- Avoid taking long afternoon naps
- Get some exercise earlier in the day
- Make sure your bedroom is dark enough and a comfortable temperature for you
Q: When should I seek attention for a sleep problem?
A: If you’re having sleep problems that go on for more than 3 months – or even less than that, but are negatively affecting your quality of life – consult a sleep expert who may need to conduct the necessary testing to accurately diagnose the problem. This may include a sleep study.
Specific symptoms include:
- Daytime sleepiness
- Difficulty concentrating during the day
- Having trouble falling or staying asleep
- Stopping breathing briefly during the night
- Waking up unrefreshed even after a full night’s sleep
Q: Do all animals sleep?
A: Yes. Even flies sleep. That shows you how important sleep is.