Just how important is a good night's sleep? Dr. Carl E. Hunt, Director of the National Center on Sleep Disorder Research, part of National Institutes of Health, has some insight.
Q. How do you know if someone is sleep deprived?
A. First, the number of hours they are sleeping; most adults need seven to eight hours a night to be fully rested. Also, if one finds it hard to get out of bed in the morning, if one is sleepy during the day or at times when one should not be sleepy.
Q. Does it matter when those eight hours are? What about new parents who only get a couple of hours at a time?
A. Interruptions do affect quality of sleep some, and frequent interruptions can lead to less efficient sleep. Short naps (30-60 minutes) during the day can be very beneficial; long naps can make it harder to get going again.
Q. How does sleep deprivation affect day-to-day tasks? Can it be dangerous?
A. Adults who are chronically sleep deprived have some of the same effects to their performance as those with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit. (So driving while sleep-deprived is very dangerous.) In fact, sleep-deprived people become more accident-prone in general, with more emergency room visits because of injuries.
Chronic sleep loss affects memory and learning. Some sleep disorders, if untreated, can affect blood pressure and exacerbate tendencies toward obesity and adult-onset diabetes.
(To learn more about sleep disorders visit www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep.)
Q. What warning signs indicate that someone has a sleep disorder, rather than simply a lack of sleep?
A. If one has an appropriate sleep schedule, but they still have excessive daytime sleepiness, a medical evaluation is in order. Consistent and loud snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness might point to sleep apnea, a disorder that should be treated.
Q. What advice can you offer to parents suffering from sleep deprivation?
A. It's important to make the sleep environment conducive to sleep. The room should be dark and not too warm. Everyone knows that exercise and diet are important to good health, but sleep is just as important. Every living organism needs to sleep, and we know what the consequences are if one doesn't have healthy sleep.