By Jasminee Sahoye
Now that school is back, students and their working parents face busy, tiring days, especially due to the long summer break and that many of them did not have regular schedules. One of the biggest challenges will be sleep and getting the right amount to face the daily challenges.
According to an article on Mental Health Canada’s (MHC) website on sleeping, the amount of sleep each person needs depends on many factors, including age.
“Infants generally require about 16 hours a day, while teenagers need about nine hours on average. For most adults, seven to eight hours a night appears to be the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as five hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day,” the article says.
“Women in the first three months of pregnancy often need several more hours of sleep than usual. The amount of sleep a person needs also increases if he or she has been deprived of sleep in previous days.”
It adds people tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter time spans as they get older, although they generally need about the same amount of sleep as they needed in early adulthood. “About half of all people over 65 have frequent sleeping problems, such as insomnia, and deep sleep stages in many elderly people often become very short or stop completely. This change may be a normal part of aging, or it may result from medical problems that are common in elderly people and from the medications and other treatments for those problems.”
Experts say that if you feel drowsy during the day, even during boring activities, you haven’t had enough sleep. If you routinely fall asleep within five minutes of lying down, you probably have severe sleep deprivation, possibly even a sleep disorder. Microsleeps, or very brief episodes of sleep in an otherwise awake person, are another mark of sleep deprivation, the MHC article states.
Many studies make it clear that sleep deprivation is dangerous. Sleep-deprived people who are tested by using a driving simulator or by performing a hand-eye co-ordination task perform as badly as or worse than those who are intoxicated.
Sleep deprivation also magnifies alcohol effects on the body, so a fatigued person who drinks will become much more impaired than someone who is well-rested. Driver fatigue is responsible for an estimated 100,000 motor vehicle accidents and 1,500 deaths each year in the U.S., according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Since drowsiness is the brain’s last step before falling asleep, driving while drowsy can and often does lead to disaster. Caffeine and other stimulants cannot overcome the effects of severe sleep deprivation. The National Sleep Foundation says that if you have trouble keeping your eyes focused, if you can’t stop yawning, or if you can’t remember driving the last few miles, you are probably too drowsy to drive safely.
Sleeping problems occur in almost all people with mental disorders, including those with depression and schizophrenia, according to the article. It states people with depression, for example, often awaken in the early hours of the morning and find themselves unable to get back to sleep.
When you cannot sleep, here is what you can do according to the National Sleep Foundation:
Set a schedule – Go to bed at a set time each night and get up at the same time each morning. Disrupting this schedule may lead to insomnia. Sleeping in on weekends also makes it harder to wake up early on Monday morning because it re-sets your sleep cycles for a later awakening.
Exercise – Try to exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day. Daily exercise often helps people sleep, although a workout soon before bedtime may interfere with sleep. For maximum benefit, try to exercise about five to six hours before going to bed.
Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol – Caffeine acts as a stimulant and keeps people awake. Sources of caffeine include coffee, chocolate, soft drinks, non-herbal teas, diet drugs, and some pain relievers. Smokers tend to sleep very lightly and often wake up in the early morning due to nicotine withdrawal.
Relax before bed – A warm bath, reading, or another relaxing routine can make it easier to fall sleep. You can train yourself to associate certain restful activities with sleep and make them part of your bedtime ritual.
Sleep until sunlight – If possible, wake up with the sun, or use very bright lights in the morning. Sunlight helps the body’s internal biological clock reset itself each day. Sleep experts recommend exposure to an hour of morning sunlight for people having problems falling asleep.
Don’t lie in bed awake – If you can’t get to sleep, don’t just lie in bed. Do something else, like reading, watching TV, or listening to music, until you feel tired. The anxiety of being unable to fall asleep can actually contribute to insomnia.
Control your room temperature – Maintain a comfortable temperature in the bedroom. Extreme temperatures may disrupt sleep or prevent you from falling asleep.
See a doctor if your sleeping problem continues – If you have trouble falling asleep night after night, or if you always feel tired the next day, then you may have a sleep disorder and should see a physician.