Sleep takes up about a third of our lives but too many people take it for granted. We push on, work a little longer, study a little more, and sometimes even find ourselves nodding off while trying to focus on a task. Rather than continuing to fight, it may be better if you stop and rest, resuming when you are fresh and clear-headed. This might be a brief nap or by getting the 7 – 9 hours of sleep nightly as recommended for adults by the National Sleep Foundation Scientific Advisory Council.
Sleep is not an afterthought once our tasks are done, nor is it lost time. It is vital to body and system maintenance and recovery. It is when our body grows, heals, is important to the cardio-respiratory system, and is required to keep the immune system at its high.
As you drift off to sleep the brain uses about 20% of the blood circulating through the body. This time of day is crucial to memory. The hippocampus, an area in the brain primarily responsible for converting short-term memories into long-term memories, needs the non-REM, slow wave sleep stage of sleep. In this time it relays short-term memories throughout the brain, driving them into long-term storage. The REM stage, on the other hand, helps us store procedural memories like learning to throw a ball or play a musical instrument.
Not getting a good night of sleep not only harms health but takes away from all that hard work you may have spent practicing a skill or memorizing a presentation from the previous day. By not sleeping our body loses its ability to convert and store memories at its optimum. If you choose to nap, however, the ideal time frame is 30 to 40 minutes. That is about how long it takes a person to move through the first two stages of sleep, but before the deep sleep cycle kicks in. If you set your alarm and wake up during the deep sleep cycle you may find yourself even sleepier. Still, because our bodies cycle through all four stages of sleep repeatedly throughout the night, there is no comparison to a good night of enough continuous hours of good-quality sleep.