Imagine getting eight hours of quality sleep each night. You fall asleep, enjoy a few pleasant (you hope) dreams and wake up refreshed and eager to start the day. It’s a nice thought, and some may actually get this much-needed nightly rest. But in this frantic world, it’s getting increasingly tough to snooze your way to better health.

One doctor specializing in the mechanics of sleep is Michael Nolledo, Director of the Institute for Sleep Medicine at Deborah Heart and Lung Center in Browns Mills, New Jersey. In an interview with Men and Health: It’s a Guy Thing, Dr. Nolledo says many people don’t realize how much sleep they require. He says 90 to 95 percent of people are going to require somewhere between seven and nine hours of sleep every night. “What a lot of people say is, ‘yeah, I require maybe four or five hours…I seem to be doing pretty well,’ but what many of those folks don’t realize is that they’re probably not functioning at peak efficiency…they’re not giving themselves the best shot at performing the best that they could be during the day.”

Sleep deprivation is found in all age groups, according to Nolledo, a sleep medicine specialist. On the one hand, children, ages one to two, require an average of about 14 to 16 hours of sleep daily. Nolledo says this amount of sleep helps secrete substances, such as growth hormone, and helps toddlers incorporate their learning experiences. “For the elderly, the reason to get enough sleep is because your coping mechanisms are not going to be as sufficient. The effects of sleep deprivation are going to be more pronounced as one gets older, because we don’t have either the physical or mental ability that younger folks have in order to compensate and make up for sleep deprivation effects,” says Nolledo.

In this wild, multi-tasking world, we tend to give sleep low priority. “We have 24 hours in a day,” says Nolledo. “All of us have a lot of things we would like to do…we end up prioritizing things because there’s simply not enough time in the day to do everything we would like to accomplish…most people would probably put ten or fifteen things on top of the (priority) list before sleep.”

The benefits of a sound sleep are many. Nolledo says sleep is meant to mentally and physically restore us, adding that memory and learning improves with a good sleep. Without a good sleep, “Your ability to multi-task during the day is not going to be as good. You’ll end up, overall, being less efficient.” Regarding long-term health effects, Nolledo says a lot of the data focuses on conditions such as sleep apnea rather than sleep deprivation. Sleep apnea has been linked to high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes.

If you think you’re suffering from sleeping disorders, you might want to see a specialist. Sleep medicine is a board-certified specialty. “There are a number of physicians who are specially trained to handle this sort of thing,” says Nolledo, noting that we spend one-third of our lives asleep.

Considering the amount of distractions we face in a world dominated by high-tech contraptions such as cell phones, computers and Blackberries, one should not forget the importance of sleep. “One should have a healthy respect for sleep,” says Nolledo. “It’s important to get the right amount of sleep. I think that (sleep) should not be something that should be sacrificed.”

Visit Dr. Nolledo at www.deborah.org

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