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Sleep Deprivation at Every Age

Sleep is one of the three pillars of health, and it is important at every age. Though more and more people are becoming aware of the dangers of sleep deprivation and of the various sleep disorders and distractions that can interfere with getting the quality and quantity of sleep that we need, few realize that the way that sleep deprivation impacts us changes with each age. Where adult fatigue may be signaled by a frenzied search for caffeine and sugar, children are likely to act hyper active. For an idea of how each age group reacts to lack of sleep, read on:

Children:

Anybody who has ever spent time with a toddler knows that it is extremely obvious when they need sleep. Kids will not only fall asleep right where they are, but they generally show signs of sleepiness that are recognizable immediately. Crankiness, temper tantrums, unreasonable outbursts and weepiness are all red flags that it is time for a nap, and kids will often manifest physical symptoms such as rubbing their eyes outright. But as kids get older and get away from taking regular naps, a lack of sleep expresses itself in more subtle ways, and in ways that may seem counterintuitive.

Rather than becoming lethargic in the way that adults do, school-aged children may instead do the opposite and become hyperactive. Sleep deprivation can affect not only their behavior, but also how often they get sick and how well they perform in their academics and learning. Lack of sleep impacts children’s immune systems so that it is harder for the to fight off infection. Most importantly, children and adults alike find that when they are short of sleep it has a direct impact on their moods and their overall sense of well-being

Interesting that sleep affects different age groups in other ways Interesting that sleep deprivation effects different age groups in other ways

Teens:

Teens may think that they are adults, but their bodies are still growing and it has been shown that they actually need far more sleep than adults do. This is particularly challenging because of the early hours that middle and high schools being their day, as well as the fact that because teen circadian rhythms are different from the rest of society, they have a harder time getting to bed early. Those two facts together create a double-edged sword that leaves teens unable to get up and be alert for the first and second session of their school day. Learning is impacted, and so are their moods and energy levels, and this can lead to greater levels of teen depression, obesity, and even increases their risk of getting into car accidents. A recent study showed that teens are at a higher risk for crashes when they sleep six hours or less. From a physical perspective, teen hormones are so impacted by a lack of sleep that even their facial acne can worsen as a result of not getting enough sleep. Studies have shown that only fifteen percent of teens are getting eight and a half hours of sleep per night, and that is still less than the nine hours per night that the American Academy of Pediatrics says that they need.

Adults:

Studies have shown that when adults miss out on sleep, they are much more likely to find themselves feeling particularly hungry throughout the day, even if they have taken in their normal number of calories. The reason for this has been shown to b a higher level of ghrelin, a hormone that regulates hunger and which is overproduced when we don’t get enough sleep.

Adults are also much more likely to feel emotionally sensitive and prone to tears. Something as basic as a sentimental television commercial can easily send you running for the tissue box, and according to Matthew Walker, the senior author of a 2007 study into the sleep deprived brain, it’s because lack of sleep returns us to a more basic state. “It’s almost as though, without sleep, the brain had reverted back to more primitive patterns of activity, in that it was unable to put emotional experiences into context and produce controlled, appropriate responses,” he said.

Forgetfulness is another hallmark of sleep deprivation. Studies have shown that missing critical hours of sleep, and particularly of Rapid Eye movement or REM sleep, can lead to a number of cognitive and memory problems, as well as difficulty in paying attention and focusing. Adults who are sleep deprived are also much clumsier than normal, and this is a result of sleeplessness having a detrimental impact on their motor skills. Clete Kushida, MD, PhD, who is director of Stanford University’s Center for Human Sleep Research, says that both depth perception and reflexes are slower with too little sleep. Stress levels are elevated in sleep deprived adults as a result of elevated levels of cortisol, and if you’re looking for stress relief, keep in mind that adults who are short on sleep are also much less likely to engage in sexual activity with their partner, and that’s because lack of sleep has a direct impact on sex drive.

Finally, adults who are sleep deprived are far more vulnerable to catching a cold or flu. Those who sleep fewer than seven hours per night have been shown to have a three times greater risk of being impacted by a virus than is true of those who sleep eight or more hours per night.

Elderly:

For seniors, a lack of sleep can make a critical difference in their overall health and wellbeing. Lack of sleep not only wreaks havoc with an elderly person’s ability to remember critical information, but it also can leave them feeling unsteady on their feet. A lack of balance can lead to falls that can result in serious injuries that begin a downward spiral in physical and mental health. Because seniors often have difficulty sleeping, many take sleeping aids that may make this dizziness even worse.

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