The human body needs only a few things on a daily basis that are nonnegotiable: proper intake of water and nutrition, exercise and sleep. Many factors affect sleep quality and quantity and many new disturbing trends within American society put people at risk for inadequate sleep:
- Lack of exercise
- Working long hours
- Malnutrition and obesity
- Prescription medication (70 percent of Americans are on at least one)
- Mental illness (20 percent of Americans experience this in any given year)
- Alcohol use disorders (30 percent of Americans experience this in their lifetime)
- Illegal drug use (an American epidemic)
- Suicidal thoughts (another American epidemic)
- Chronic health conditions (nearly 30 percent Americans have at least two)
- Stress from the above factors
Quantity of sleep required
Even the most resilient Americans may not be getting enough quality sleep. The following are the recommended requirements of sleep hours per night, according to the National Sleep Foundation:
- Age 6 to 13 years: nine to 11 hours
- Age 14 to 17: eight to 10 hours
- Age 26 to 64: seven to nine hours
Quality of sleep important, too
In addition to the quantity of sleep, the body must be able to cycle through all of the stages of sleep throughout the night without interruption. The five stages of sleep that people cycle through during the night include:
Stage 1. Light sleep: Consists of slow eye movement, fragmented visual images and muscle jerks; people are easily awakened from this stage.
Stage 2. Average sleep: Consists of no eye movement, slower brain waves with bursts of rapid waves.
Stage 3. Deep sleep: Even slower brain waves with intermittent slow, faster waves; it’s difficult to arouse the person in deep sleep.
Stage 4. Very deep sleep: Almost exclusively extremely slow brain waves; it’s very difficult to arouse the person in very deep sleep; this is the stage when bedwetting, night terrors and sleep walking occur.
R.E.M. Stage: Rapid-eye movement, increased heart rate and blood pressure; dreams occur.
Even without interruption, other factors affect the quality of sleep, such as the stressors discussed above. Other factors can also affect sleep quality as well. In fact, weight and diet may weigh in, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania studied the sleep patterns of 36 healthy adults using polysomnography, which measures vital signs and brain waves during sleep. The overweight participants spent a higher percentage of time in REM sleep and less time in the restorative deep sleep stages than normal-weight participants. The same trend was found in those with higher protein intake.
Previous work by the same research team found that adults with late bedtimes and chronic sleep restriction were more susceptible to weight gain due to high caloric intake during late-night hours. Those who ate less late at night slept better and had better concentration and alertness during the day.
Maximizing sleep quality
Cycling through all of the sleep stages is important for the body to be able to heal, repair and detoxify. In addition to healing, sleep also has everything to do with how we feel, how we think, how we respond to others and what decisions we make. Sleep quality can be improved by maintaining a healthy weight.
Taking care of the basic needs of the body every day is as simple as eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep. If one of these needs is not met, the others can become imbalanced and lead to mental or physical illness. When teenagers develop healthy habits, they often can actually feel the benefits right away. Maintaining these habits every day despite life changes can build the foundation for a lifetime of health and well-being.
At White River Academy, we integrate multidisciplinary strategies to promote lasting physical and behavioral health in young men ages 12 to 17. When treatment becomes necessary, White River Academy in beautiful Delta, Utah, offers state-of-the-art care, education and growth opportunities that can lead to a bright future. We emphasize healthy lifestyle habits and cognitive rehabilitation. Our recovery management program offers ongoing support and recovery management. Our financial counselors can provide insurance solutions, resources and information about how to access the best care possible. For more information, please call our 24/7 helpline.
About the author
Dana Connolly, Ph.D., translates current research into practical information. She earned her Ph.D. in research and theory development from New York University and has decades of experience in clinical care, medical research and health education.