An average person sleeps about a third of the day, roughly six to 10 hours. That time is actually the most important part of the day, as it determines mental and physical health for the remainder of the day.
Sleep determines your alertness, school or work performance, growth, muscle strength and repair, personality, ability to interact with others, control of diabetes and cholesterol, and the development of vascular disease. That list, while lengthy, is only a glimpse into the effect sleep has on your life.
The control of sleep has been determined by changes in our brain's development over millions of years. Basically, humans are programed to wake with bright light (sunlight in the morning), and begin to get sleepier as the light fades in the evening. Any change from this can cause sleep disturbance. Shift workers prove that. Especially something like the "Southern Swing Shift," which includes rotating between days, nights and afternoons. Studies have shown that shift workers like that live much shorter lives than those who do not work rotating shifts.
Sleep over a range from teenage to old age is 7.5 to 9.5 hours per night. There are people that sleep less, and others who need more sleep to feel rested. Being rested means a person is continuing to be alert in the most boring of situations.
The best way to take control of your sleep is to set the wake time in the morning the same every day. Waking up within a half hour of the same time every day will help you feel more rested than ever. That includes weekends, and even nights when you went to bed later than usual. This applies to adults, teens and children. Many parents feel that they are doing their children and teens a favor by allowing them to sleep in during the summer and on weekends, but that is definitely a mistake. This allows sleep to lose cycling control. This can have a profound effect on school performance.
One of the reasons for this is because the lowest point in a person's body temperature during a 24-hour day cycle is about an hour prior to wake. This point sets the timing of all hormone secretion except that of the thyroid. Disturbances of sleep cycling can cause short stature, lack of energy, poor healing of connective tissue (muscle, ligaments, tendons, etc.), mental illness, poor job or school performance, etc.
Many sleep specialists think that most, if not all, problems associated with fibromyalgia can be due to abnormal sleep cycling. Mainly from a lack of deep sleep, which is when our bodies secrete growth hormones. Lack of adequate sleep can make weight control and blood sugar control much more difficult as well.
Total sleep and control of sleep cycling and timing are important aspects of your health. This should be discussed with your primary care provider at every visit. If there is a significant problem, then a consultation with a sleep specialist should be considered. The difference sleep can have in your life is profound, and could be just the thing you need to help turn your mental or physical health around.
Editor's note: Dr. Carl Smoot, DO, is board certified in internal medicine, pulmonary disease and sleep medicine at Portage Health.