Young adults are notorious for not getting enough sleep, with most only averaging six hours a night. Young adults need an average of 7.5 and 8 hours of sleep every night (you may need slightly more or less sleep).
As we move from adolescence to young adulthood, we experience a big change in our sleep patterns. Sleep often becomes less satisfying: we might not sleep as well and feel less rested in the morning. To understand why, we have to look at the sleep cycle.
- Sleep Cycle
- How Sleep Affects Health
- The Negative Impacts of All-Nighters
- How to Improve Sleep
Sleep is split into two main phases: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM. Our bodies cycle between REM and non-REM sleep. A sleep cycle begins with four stages of non-REM sleep followed by REM sleep; then they cycle starts over again.
During REM sleep, the eyes move rapidly in different directions and intense dreaming occurs. Adults spend about 20 percent of sleep time in REM.
Non-REM sleep has four stages:
Stage 1: light doze, not very refreshing
Stage 2: middle sleep, refreshing
Stage 3 and 4: slow-wave sleep, the most refreshing
As we enter our early twenties, we experience more stage 2 sleep and less stage 3 sleep. With less of the "most refreshing" sleep, we don't feel as rested when we wake up.
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How Sleep Affects Health
Getting enough sleep each night is important for your overall health. Many studies have found a link between not getting enough sleep and serious health problems, in both the short term and long term.
Some of the short term risks of sleep deprivation include:
- Decreased alertness and concentration
- Decreased memory
- Increased risk of getting injured at work
- Increased risk of getting in a car crash
Some of the long term risks of sleep deprivation include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart attack and heart failure
- Depression, mood disorders, ADHD
- Poor quality of life
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The Negative Impacts of All-Nighters
Staying up all night or socializing late into the night can disturb your normal sleep pattern. Studies have shown that after a night of sleep deprivation, students react more slowly and have trouble concentrating. This negatively impacts grades.
Sleep deprivation can also change hormone production. It increases the stress hormone cortisol (which can weaken your immune system, and make you more likely to get sick) and decreases the production of thyroid hormone (which can lead to fatigue and weight gain).
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Caffeine is a naturally occurring substance found in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, and certain medicines. It stimulates the central nervous system, which can make you feel more awake and alert.
The amount of caffeine in two to four cups of coffee has no negative effect for most people (in fact, many studies have linked coffee consumption with various health benefits!), but too much caffeine can make you restless, anxious, and irritable.
In addition, if you stop using caffeine, you could get withdrawal symptoms (in most cases, a headache). People who may want to avoid or limit caffeine include: pregnant women and people prone to stress/anxiety, high blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, and chronic headaches.
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How to Improve Sleep
You have more control over your quality of sleep than you may think. Some ways to improve your sleep include:
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine four to six hours before bedtime
- Make sure that your bedroom environment is quiet, dark, and cool.
- Be sure your mattress is comfortable: (typically, they wear out after 10 years)
- Create a soothing pre-sleep routine: avoid stressful, stimulating activities before bed; ease the transition to sleep time with a relaxing activity (read a book or take a bath)
- Have a consistent sleep schedule: going to bed and waking up at the same time every day sets the body’s "internal clock"
- Nap early: if you take a nap, it's better to keep it short and before 5 p.m.
- Avoid foods that cause indigestion before bedtime – (different for everyone, but foods that are high in fat, for example pizza and fast-food, often cause indigestion)
- Exercise, but do it at least 3 hours before bed.
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public health education intern
Below are links PAMF accessed when researching this topic. PAMF does not sponsor or endorse any of these sites, nor does PAMF guarantee the accuracy of the information contained on them.
The Problem with All Nighters, Mind the Science Gap.
12 Tips to Improve Sleep, Healthy Sleep.
For More Information:
See our Sleep Disorders article.
Reviewed By: Melissa Raby, R.N.
Last Reviewed: July 14, 2013