Sleep on this: 6 important facts about sleep


Sleep on This: 6 Important Facts About Sleep

Whether you’re one of the few who sleep like a baby or are constantly playing catch up, your sleep habits play a critical role in your health. Our bodies not only need to recharge, but our brains also need time to process the day’s activities.

So how can you make sure you’re getting enough sleep for optimum health? From bedtime routines for kids to sleep apnea and REM – the more you know about your zzz’s, the better rested you and your family will be.

Here are 6 sleep facts you should know to get your family on the road to regular, rejuvenating rest:
Sleep Facts About Children   

    1. Kids need consistency: If you have young kids, don’t fall for these seemingly logical sleep traps: “Let’s skip Tommy’s nap, so he’ll go to bed earlier tonight!” or “Let’s put Tommy to bed later, so he’ll sleep in tomorrow!” Those plans, sadly, usually backfire. The nap-skipper will be overtired by bedtime and take even longer to fall asleep. And chances are, the child you kept up late will STILL wake up at 5:30 in the morning the next day, but with an attitude. Instead, keep the nap and bedtime routines consistent, so your child gets the right amount of sleep.


    1. How much sleep kids really need varies: Toddlers need about 12 to 14 hours (including naps) and school-age children need about 10 to 11 hours. But numbers don’t tell the whole story. Tumaini Rucker Coker, MD, MBA,, a pediatrician at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, says parent observations are just as important as numbers on the clock. Each child is different. If your child is getting fewer than the recommended hours of sleep, but waking up easily and has plenty of energy during the day – don’t worry. But if you notice your child’s difficult to wake up, irritable during the day and falls asleep instantly in the car – those are all signs your child may need to get to sleep earlier.


  1. Children can have sleep apnea: If children are logging the appropriate amount of sleep and are still excessively tired – to the point where they are falling asleep in class or while watching TV – they may be suffering from a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Children with sleep apnea have pauses in their breathing during sleep. The interrupted sleep leads to chronic tiredness, poor attention and even growth problems. Talk to your pediatrician if you’re concerned.


Sleep Facts About You

    1. Sleep apnea can affect your brain: Sleep apnea affects more than just energy levels. A research study conducted at UCLA concluded that the gasping during the night that’s associated with sleep apnea can cause brain damage, leading to high blood pressure, depression, memory loss and anxiety. Researchers think this is because the breathing interruptions don’t let the body get the oxygen it needs. Sleep apnea is treatable, so see your doctor if you experience excessive daytime sleepiness.


    1. You may benefit from a polysomnogram: This is the fancy word for a sleep study. If a doctor suspects you or your child has sleep apnea or another sleep disorder, they’ll recommend you go to a sleep lab, so sleep experts can study your sleeping patterns. Before you go to sleep, technicians will attach a few sensors to your body. Then, all you need to do is sleep. During the night, the sensors collect valuable data about your eye movements, breathing patterns and heart rate. Your doctor will use the information to figure out how to help you sleep more soundly.


    1. Dreams actually serve a purpose: The phase of sleep called rapid eye movement (REM) is a time of intense brain activity. This is when we have the most vivid dreams. We usually spend about 2 hours every night dreaming. Our eyes also flicker rapidly during REM sleep. “We suspect rapid eye movements reflect the instant when the brain encounters a new image in a dream.” Itzhak Fried, MD, PhD., a UCLA surgeon and professor, says. “[Sleep] is a time when we relive and consolidate our memories … Rapid eye movement offers a window into the human visual experience. At these moments, our sleeping brains capture snapshots of the dream world inside our heads.” In fact, one study showed that REM sleep was important for helping people learn new mental skills. Like your favorite TV recaps, sleep is a time to review and analyze.


For more information on sleeping disorders and our sleep laboratory, visit the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center.

I have always been fascinated by the sleep REM cycle and have tried to calculate when my body was going through that. However, I don’t sleep too often. In fact, I sleep an average of three hours a night and I’m not sure that I actually do dream. Well, I don’t dream for two hours at least. However, I had no idea that dreaming was important for developing mental skills and so I might want to make sure that my mind is free to do that more. Besides increasing the amount of time that I spend sleeping, how can I make myself dream more?

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