ABCs of ZZZZs -- When you Can't Sleep

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Safety Administration has estimated more than 100,000 auto crashes annually are fatigue related. These drowsy driving crashes cause more than 1,500 deaths and tens of thousands of injuries and lasting disabilities. This problem has been found to affect drivers aged 25 or under more than any other age group.

How Much Sleep Is Enough?

Sleep needs vary. In general, most healthy adults need seven to nine hours of sleep a night. However, some individuals are able to function without sleepiness or drowsiness after as little as six hours of sleep. Others can’t perform at their peak unless they’ve slept ten hours. And, contrary to common myth, the need for sleep doesn’t decline with age(although the ability to get it all at one time may be reduced).

So, how do you measure how much sleep you truly need? If you have trouble staying alert during boring or monotonous situations when fatigue is often "unmasked" you probably aren’t getting enough good-quality sleep. Other signs are a tendency to be unreasonably irritable with co-workers, family or friends, and difficulty concentrating or remembering facts.

Is All Sleep the Same?

It may surprise you to learn that during the hours you seem to be "out cold," a lot is actually happening. Normal sleepers have a relatively predictable "sleep architecture," the term used to describe an alternating pattern of REM (rapid-eye-movement) and non-REM sleep. REM sleep is when you dream, and is characterized by a high level of mental and physical activity. In fact, your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing are similar to what you experience when you are awake.

Scientists define the best sleep as having the right mix of REM and non-REM sleep. Getting enough sleep without interruptions from your environment or from internal factors such as your breathing is more likely to maintain your natural sleep architecture and result in restful and restorative sleep.

Who's At Risk For Poor Sleep?


Virtually everyone suffers at least an occasional night of poor sleep. However, as the list of "sleep stealers" implies, certain individuals may be particularly vulnerable. These include students, shift workers, travelers,