by Susan Lampe, R.N., Parish Nurse

Sleep. We need it for our physical and mental health. According to the National Sleep Foundation only 27 percent of U.S. adults get the recommended seven or eight hours of sleep each night. This is a concern because sleep isn’t merely a break from your busy life; it is essential for good health and for mental and emotional functioning; it is absolutely necessary for survival.

Your mind is surprisingly busy while you snooze. You can strengthen memories or “practice” skills you learned while you were awake (in a process called consolidation). “If you are trying to learn something, whether it’s physical or mental, you learn it to a certain point with practice,” says Dr. Rapoport, who is an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center. “But something happens while you sleep that makes you learn it better.”

Other benefits of adequate sleep include decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, and premature aging. Research indicates that people who sleep six or fewer hours a night have higher blood levels of inflammatory proteins than those who sleep more. Adequate sleep improves decision making and supports good mental and emotional health, too.

Children and teens need significantly more sleep than adults to support their rapid mental and physical development. Missing as little as 30-60 minutes of sleep time can affect a child’s school performance and learning. The recommendations are for school-aged children 9–11 hours and for teens, 8–10 hours. Good health starts with a good night’s sleep.