Everyone knows what it feels like to try and get through the day after not getting enough sleep the previous night. “I’m just tired,” we’ve all explained before. Tired...an experience that is much more complicated and extensive than simply being sleepy. Let’s break down what ‘tired’ really means. When we’re feeling tired, we are often experiencing a combination of different effects as a result of lack of sleep. You may feel fatigued, groggy, unfocused, irritable, heightened anxiety or emotions, and even apathy. More often than not, you feel multiple of these at once. Your cognition is impaired and your mental sharpness is dulled, you feel weak and unmotivated to move or exercise, and your conversations with others are not as exciting or fulfilling. We may be able to sum it up as feeling ‘tired’, but your body has several different reactions occurring simultaneously to not getting enough sleep, and living in a state of tiredness day after day has the potential to affect your life professionally and socially.
A good night’s sleep is essential for our health and wellbeing, and the first step to prioritizing sleep is being aware of why we need sleep and what it does for our bodies. Know Yourself has teamed up with Dr. Jonathan Kushnir, sleep specialist and author, to help explain what happens when we sleep, why sleep is so important for your health, and what you can do to improve your night’s sleep.
Dr. Jonathan Kushnir is a clinical psychologist, expert, and instructor in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), HCPC registered (U.K), and accredited by the European Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. Dr. Jonathan Kushnir trained both in Israel and the U.S. In over a decade, Dr. Kushnir has successfully treated thousands of children and adults suffering from anxiety and sleep disorders. Dr. Kushnir specialized in the treatment of children suffering from anxieties and sleep problems during his Ph.D. studies, his fellowship, and in his work in private practice as well as anxiety clinics in public hospitals. Over the years he has published numerous articles in top scientific - peer reviewed journals. He is one of the founders and authors of CBTAILS.COM, a book series that helps parents and children to cope together with various sleep and anxiety difficulties.
Know Yourself loves Dr. Kushnir’s books for both adults and children, especiallyChildren and Parents Beating Nighttime Fears: A Parents Guide, and theNaomi children’s collection. Check them out on Amazon!
What Happens When We Sleep?
The second stage is the Light Sleep stage. In this stage you are now fully asleep and, as your body continues to relax, your blood pressure slows down and body temperature drops. This is the longest stage of the sleep cycle and your brain is hard at work processing information from the day. The third stage of the sleep cycle is the Deep Sleep stage. During this stage, your body stays very still, in a near-paralyzed state, and the body works to repair and strengthen your bones, muscles, tissues, and immune system. This sleep stage is very important and is the second longest. The last stage of the sleep cycle is the REM stage. REM stands for “Rapid Eye Movement” and during this stage the eyes move rapidly back and forth as the brain becomes active again. This is the stage when learning, memory, and creativity are stimulated and when vivid dreaming occurs. The REM and Deep Sleep stages are the most important for your overall health. While you can survive on Light Sleep, your body would not get the restoration necessary to promote or even upkeep cognitive and physical health.
Check out our Stages of Sleep Free Resource to introduce your children to what their body does during a good night's rest! Download it here!
Why Do We Need Sleep?
Adequate sleep is the only way our body can fully take care of itself. When we deprive the body of sleep, it affects our short-term ability to function at our best and our long-term health outcomes. In the short term, no matter our age, if we don’t get enough sleep we cannot operate at our full potential. We feel the effects of being ‘tired’ which range from issues with cognition, to mental and behavioral wellness and physical health. When we’re running on lack of sleep our focus, reasoning, creativity, attentiveness, and overall clarity and sharpness are dulled causing our decisions, reactions and efficiency to be impaired. Mentally, anxiety can spike and we can experience irregular mood shifts and imbalances. And perhaps most relatably, when we’re tired, the last thing we feel motivated to do is exercise; the fatigue that comes with lack of sleep contributes to a decreased drive and activity and can lead to weight gain. Combined, these can have consequential effects on our professional and social life. The longer sleep deficiency stretches in the long term, the more serious the consequences become. If we continually deprive our body of sleep, these short-term effects worsen, and we increase the odds of developing several serious health conditions later in life. Our immune system is weakened, leaving us more prone to chronic illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, stroke, obesity, anxiety and depression, and many others.
As adults, it’s important for us to get quality sleep in order to upkeep and maintain our health; we want our bodies to function as best they can for as long as possible. Sleep is one of our great allies in this fight. We don’t want any deterioration to occur that could’ve been preventable with the rich restoration that occurs during quality sleep. For children and teenagers, though, sleep has a somewhat different purpose. Up until their mid-twenties, children’s brains are still developing, and sleep is a major factor in brain maturation. Dissimilar from adults, who need sleep to sustain wellness as long as possible, children need sleep so that their health is not stunted early. If a child struggles to get adequate sleep, not only will they feel the negative effects of ‘tiredness’ in and out of school, but it will affect the growth and complexity of their brain. As parents, building good sleep habits should be equally as important as fostering other branches of the health and wellness of young people.
How do we achieve optimal sleep? Here's 10 Tips from a Sleep Specialist:
Dr. Jonathan Kushnir shares his general principles for improving and preventing sleep problems and difficulties in children. These principles are rooted in sleep hygiene and instilling good sleep habits.
- Follow a bedtime routine. Work with your child to uphold a consistent bedtime routine.
- Maintain regular sleep timing. Try to make the time that your child goes to bed and the time they wake up is as consistent as possible.
- Create a comfortable sleeping environment. Create a dark, cozy, and relatively quiet room. A dim night light is fine!
- No screens before bedtime or in the bedroom. The blue light disrupts the onset of sleep.
- Keep clear boundaries. For example, help your child understand that they need to sleep in their room and/or that they should not turn the light on once it is off for the night.
- Get plenty of physical activity during the day (but not close to bedtime!) Make sure your child gets plenty of physical activity during the day so they can wind down before bed. Physical activity before bed can prevent drowsiness from settling in.
- Get a lot of natural sunlight during the day. This helps the body know that when it is dark out, it is bedtime.
- Avoid caffeine. Caffeine intake can affect the body for several hours after consumption. Try to avoid caffeine in general but especially at night.
- Know when to take naps, and when to not. Children four years and younger nap during the day. Children 5 years and older should avoid naps during the day.
- Consult a professional if your child has persistent sleep issues. For example, they snore or sleep with their mouth open, wake up a lot at night, suffer from significant worries or fears while going to sleep, or need an adult to fall asleep during the night.