REM Sleep and Deep Sleep Cycles: Is Sleep Important For Living A Healthy Life?

Lack of sleep is a common problem in modern-day society. Sleep deprivation affects many people at some point in their lives, and the side effects can be quite detrimental.

Sleep deprivation occurs when an individual gets less sleep than they need, however people vary in how much sleep they actually need. Older adults seem to be more resistant to the lack-of-sleep side effects, while children and young adults are typically more vulnerable.

Everyone gets occasional sleep interruptions, however ongoing lack of sleep can lead to excessive daytime drowsiness, emotional challenges, poor job performance, obesity and a dispirited quality of life.

lack of sleep symptoms

What are some key points to keep in mind about sleep deprivation?

  • Lack of sleep ruins concentration and attention, essentially disrupting the ability to focus on one's environment.
  • Lack of sleep is a significant factor in tragic accidents involving airplanes, trains, ships, automobiles and nuclear power plants.
  • Children and young adults are most vulnerable to the negative effects of sleep deprivation.
  • Lack of sleep symptoms can be a red flag for an undiagnosed sleep disorder or other medical issues. Consult a doctor.

In today’s modern society, there are so many demands on our time. With busy jobs, family, hobbies and errands, it can be challenging to find some quality time to relax. Unfortunately, many people often sacrifice sleep.

Since sleep actually affects both mental and physical health, its importance cannot be overstated. Because while you’re sleeping, your brain and body don’t just shut down - internal organs, biochemical processes and detoxifications are hard at work throughout the night.

how much deep sleep

Why is REM sleep important?

On average, a good night’s sleep consists of 4 to 5 sleep cycles. Each cycle includes periods of deep sleep stages and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, when we dream. The portion of the sleep cycle that is in REM sleep increases throughout the night. This sleep pattern of cycling and progression is critical to the biochemistry of the body during sleep and subsequently during waking hours.

How much deep sleep does it take? The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) recommends appropriate sleep times for specific age groups. They are as follows:

  • Newborns (0 to 3 months): 14 - 17 hours each day
  • Infants (4 to 11 months): 12 -15 hours
  • Toddlers (1 to 2 years): 11 - 14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3 to 5 years): 10 - 13 hours
  • School-age children (6 to 13 years): 9 - 11 hours
  • Teenagers (14 to 17 years): 8 -10 hours
  • Adults (18 to 64 years): 7 - 9 hours
  • Older adults (over 65 years): 7 - 8 hours

sleep cycle

Negative Effects of Deficient Sleep:

In an interview with the Guardian, Professor Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley, said that lack of sleep affected “every aspect of our biology” and was widespread in modern society.

The lack of sleep problem is not being taken seriously by politicians and employers. It is unfortunate, but the desire to get a decent night’s sleep is often stigmatized as a sign of laziness. However, there are lack-of-sleep side effects that are being linked to cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and poor mental health - among other health problems. It is quite possible that lack of sleep could be killing us.

Lack of sleep impairs higher levels of reasoning, problem-solving and attention to detail. Productivity at work suffers, and there is a much higher risk for traffic accidents. Lack of sleep also influences mood. A significant sleep deficit over time can even cause a greater risk for developing depression.

What lack of sleep does to the brain is telling, but sleep isn’t just essential for the brain. Sleep affects almost every tissue in our bodies.  Sleep affects growth and stress hormones, the immune system, appetite, breathing, blood pressure and cardiovascular health.

lack of sleep side effects

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Lack of sleep can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, but other lack of sleep symptoms include:

  • yawning
  • moodiness
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • depressed mood
  • difficulty learning new concepts
  • forgetfulness
  • inability to concentrate
  • lack of motivation
  • clumsiness
  • increased appetite
  • carbohydrate cravings
  • reduced sex drive


Research shows that lack of sleep increases the risk for obesity, heart disease and infections. Throughout the night, your heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure rise and fall, a process that may be important for cardiovascular health. Your body releases hormones during sleep that help repair cells and control the body’s use of energy. These hormone changes can affect your body weight.

People with the condition called insomnia have trouble falling or staying asleep. Anxiety about falling asleep often exacerbates the condition. Most of us have occasional insomnia, but chronic insomnia (at least 3 nights per week, lasting more than a month) can trigger serious daytime problems such as exhaustion, irritability and difficulty concentrating.

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Another condition which can cause severe lack of sleep is sleep apnea. People with sleep apnea have a loud, uneven snore (not everyone who snores has apnea). During sleep hours their breathing repeatedly stops or becomes shallow. This causes a reduction in oxygen in the body. The brain responds by disturbing the sleep cycle in order to wake the person up enough to open their windpipe. Consequently, the sufferer never gets into restorative, deep sleep phases.

lack of sleep causes

Positive Effects of Adequate Sleep:

Sleep helps your brain work properly. While you're sleeping, the brain prepares for the next day by forming new pathways which aid in learning and remembering information.

Sleep plays an important role in your physical health. For example, adequate sleep helps the body heal and repair the heart and blood vessels.

Adequate sleep helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that regulate hunger (ghrelin) or feeling full (leptin). Sleep also affects how the body reacts to insulin, the hormone that controls the body’s blood sugar level.

Good sleep also supports healthy growth and development. Deep sleep triggers the body to release the hormone that promotes normal growth in children and teens. This hormone also boosts muscle mass and helps repair cells and tissues in children, teens and adults.

Sleep also plays a significant role in puberty and fertility.

The immune system even relies on adequate sleep to stay healthy.

Clearly, getting enough quality sleep at the right times helps the body and mind function well throughout the day.

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sleep stages

The importance of healthy sleep stages:

Studies show sleep improves learning. Whether a person is learning mathematics, a musical instrument, a mechanically precise golf swing or how to drive a car, sleep helps enhance your learning and problem-solving skills.

Adequate sleep also helps you pay attention, make good decisions and be creative.

Recently, it’s been discovered that there is a system which actually drains waste products from the brain. Dr. Maiken Nedergaard and her colleagues at the University of Rochester Medical Center made the discovery. They found that cerebrospinal fluid (a clear liquid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) moves through the brain via a series of channels that surround blood vessels. The system is managed by the brain’s glial cells. Naturally the researchers have named it the glymphatic system.

Dr. Nedergaard reported that the glymphatic system can help remove a toxic protein called beta-amyloid from brain tissue. Beta-amyloid is well-known for accumulating in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease. This has been corroborated by other research which has also shown that brain levels of beta-amyloid decrease during sleep.

This exciting research is ongoing.

light sleep


Good sleep is critical to your health!

To make each day safe and productive, take the steps necessary to make sure you regularly get a good night’s sleep.

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