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A mother is tucking her daughter in bed and father is standing at the door.

Sleep has a major impact on our overall health and quality of life, including the way look, feel and perform on a daily basis. Our body's need sleep to repair muscles, consolidate memories, and regulate hormones and appetite. Even though sufficient sleep is increasingly recognized as an essential aspect of chronic disease prevention and health promotion, many people do not get enough sleep or suffer from sleep problems.

The Importance of Sleep

Poor sleep has a negative impact on quality of life. It can lead to accidents, impaired job performance, and relationship stress. Insufficient sleep causes distress, and impairs alertness, concentration, and memory. It is also associated with poor health and a number of chronic diseases and conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and depression. Sufficient sleep positively affects:

Learning and memory: Sleep helps the brain commit new information to memory through a process called memory consolidation. Metabolism and weight: Chronic sleep deprivation may cause weight gain by affecting the way our bodies process and store carbohydrates, and by altering levels of hormones that affect our appetite. Safety: Sleep debt contributes to a greater tendency to fall asleep during the daytime. These lapses may cause falls and mistakes such as medical errors, air traffic mishaps, and road accidents. Mood: Sleep loss may result in irritability, impatience, inability to concentrate, and moodiness. Too little sleep can also leave you too tired to do the things you like to do. Cardiovascular health: Serious sleep disorders have been linked to hypertension, increased stress hormone levels, and irregular heartbeat. Disease: Sleep deprivation alters immune function, including the activity of the body's killer cells. Keeping up with sleep may also help fight cancer.

Sleep Needs Based on Age

As early as three to six months, most infants have developed a sleep-wake cycle. Sleep is extremely important for children because it directly impacts both physical and mental development. Teens and young adults are a high risk population for sleepiness leaving them vulnerable to injury and injury-related death, especially in vehicle crashes due to lapses in attention, delayed responses, drowsiness, and fatigue. Starting in young adulthood and as you continue to age, it is not uncommon for sleep to become less satisfying and less restorative. This is in part because sleep tends to mirror overall health. If health is sound, for example, sleep is often good and vice versa. Increasing age is associated with daily demands that can cause stress in addition to higher risk for health conditions such as high blood pressure, stroke, and other heart problems. In general, adults are increasingly decreasing their hours of sleep hours, unaware of the ramifications on overall health. Senior adults may have more time for sleep but they are not getting it either. Seniors are more likely to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, they may be distracted from sleep due to various aging issues such as muscle aches, illness, or a sick spouse. Restless nights, day naps, earlier bed and wake-up times can also throw-off the sleep rhythm.

The amount of sleep needed to function varies from individual to individual, and is determined genetically and hereditarily. According to the National Sleep Foundation (2012), the average hours of recommended sleep by age include:


  • Birth-2 months need 10.5-18 hours
  • 2-12 months need 14-15 hours
  • Toddlers/Children 12-18 months need 13-15 hours
  • 18 months-3 years need 12-14 hours
  • 3-5 years old need 11-13 hours
  • 5-12 years old need 9-11 hours
  • Adolescents at least 8.5-9.5 hours
  • Adults 7-9 hours

Why Can't I Sleep?

It is normal to experience an occasional problem with sleeping. It is not normal to feel sleepy during the day, to have problems getting to sleep at night, or to wake up feeling not refreshed.   If you are having trouble sleeping, examine your symptoms to be sure your sleeping problem is just a minor, passing annoyance versus a sign of a more serious sleep disorder or underlying medical condition.

Publications for Download

Aging in Place: Staying Healthy at Home