If you are one of the 40 million Americans who suffer from chronic sleep disorder, then your biggest concern might be the effects this could have on the following day. How many cups of coffee would you need to get through the day? Would your boss notice if you fell asleep at your desk? And would anyone care if you didn’t look your best?
While these thoughts are valid, we often forget that lack of quality sleep is not only about the short-term impact it can have. Sleep, and quality sleep in particular, is as essential to our health as eating healthily, fresh air and exercising regularly. Unfortunately, two thirds of adults worldwide don’t get enough sleep. 
Even teenagers are not getting enough sleep! According to some studies, the amount of sleep teenagers get has been decreasing for decades.  And lack of sleep is no laughing matter. A study at Stanford University found that sleep deprivation causes severe health issues and can even lead to suicide. 
How do you feel when you haven’t had a good night sleep? Not very good I presume! This is why lack of sleep can affect creativity, impair your decision-making abilities and even make you unfit for activities like driving. Falling asleep behind the wheel is not uncommon and thousands of crashes are reported every year; some which cause injuries or fatalities. 
Why Is Sleep So Important For You?
Just as you switch off your computer or other devices - or at least you should - before bed, your body needs to switch off. This is because most if not all functions of your body are directly affected by the amount and quality of your sleep. While good sleep doesn't necessarily equal good productivity, the opposite is always true; poor sleep equals poor performance. Many of us think sleeping is only about lying in bed unconscious. It is partly! But what also happens while we sleep is more important as our body is unable to perform certain functions while we are awake or out and about.
In fact, your physical and mental health are directly affected not only by the quality of your sleep, but also by the duration of your sleep. In other words, your immune system, cardiovascular health, brain health, productivity, creativity and much more are all dependent on good quality sleep. For instance, while you are sleeping, your body rebuilds muscles and reenergizes its cells, while sleep clears waste from your brain that built up throughout the day. This supports both learning and memory. 
On the other hand, lack of quality sleep could be related to an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease. In fact, according to a study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, even one night of sleep deprivation causes an instant increase in beta-amyloid; a protein in the brain that’s linked to Alzheimer’s.  Other diseases have also been linked to lack of sleep including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. [7, 8, 9]
While you are sleeping, your brain works hard and puts all the events of the day into "files" which are then saved as memories. Intriguingly, even our emotions are regulated while we enjoy a good night’s sleep. As studies have found, just losing one night of sleep can increase your emotional response to negative feelings by 60 percent.  You also are less productive and are more likely to act unethically at work!
Other studies found that having even moderate sleep deprivation decreases mental performance and produces impairments in cognitive and motor performance equivalent to levels of alcohol intoxication.  Another effect of sleep deprivation is weight control. Lack of sleep is directly linked to appetite control, your metabolism and overeating. Responsible for this are two hormones: ghrelin, which stimulates your appetite, and leptin, which sends signals to your brain to tell the brain you are full.  When you are not getting enough sleep, ghrelin raises while at the same time the leptin levels increase. This imbalance causes you to eat even when you’re not hungry. 
So How Much Sleep Do You Really Need?
Since we are different, the amount of sleep we need varies based on age as well as daily activities. The quality of sleep you get also plays a role in the amount you need, as does your genetics.  According to a study at the University of California, San Francisco, less than three percent of the population have a specific gene which makes six hours of sleep sufficient for them.  If you’re one of this 3 percent, I envy you and I am sure so do the other 97 percent!
For the rest of us who can’t get by with six hours of sleep, it’s recommended we sleep according to our age group. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the need of sleep for age-groups is broken down like this: 
- Newborns (0 – 3 months old): 14 -17 hours
- 4 to 11 months old: 12 -15 hours
- 1 to 2 years old: 11 – 14 hours
- 3 to 5 years old: 10 – 13 hours
- 6 to 13 years old: 9 – 11 hours
- 14 to 17 years old: 8 – 10 hours
- Adults (18 to 64): 7 – 9 hours
- Elderly (65+): 7 – 8 hours
Keep in mind that while the number of hours of sleep recommended for your age group is good to know, it’s also important to think about the quality of your sleep. Deep, quality sleep is what allows your body to fully switch off and recuperate before you’re ready to take on the next day!
About The Author:
Ikram Mohamed is passionate about health, wellness and non-toxic living. She loves sharing tips on how to lead a healthier life using natural solutions. The undeniable link between lifestyle choices and chronic disease are of great interest to her. She writes about these topics on her blog: The Healthy Household.