Understanding the Importance of Sleep

Sleep is a major part of our lives. It is estimated that we spend about one-third of our lives sleeping. Adequate sleep is a necessary and important component of a healthy lifestyle. Getting quality sleep during the night is related to our ability to function during the day.

Most adults need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to feel rested and ready to tackle the day. Often adults do not get enough sleep because of the many other things they have to do on a daily basis (e.g., taking care of children and family members, working, running errands, exercising, maintaining the household, etc.). Getting fewer than 7 hours of sleep or experiencing interrupted sleep may lead to decreased energy, feelings of fatigue, difficulty with concentration, moodiness, and a weakened immune system. Getting poor sleep also may contribute to bad eating habits, weight gain, and memory impairment.

There are differences in how much sleep each individual needs. The amount of sleep you need may depend on your age, activity level and even genetics. If you feel sleepy and drowsy during the day, these may be signs that you are not sleeping well during the night.

How does sleep affect the brain and cognition?

Research has demonstrated that sleep has positive effects on several forms of processing in the brain, including motor skills, learning new information, multitasking, and gaining insight. Other findings suggest that the brain is better able to form memories during sleep. If you do not get enough sleep, not only is it harder for your brain to strengthen the memories you’ve made but the rates of errors you might make at work may increase because you are tired and unable to pay attention to all of the requirements of your job. Poor sleep also increases your risk of making careless decisions while driving and may impact your reaction time in critical situations.

Our research has shown that childhood cancer survivors may be especially vulnerable to the impact of poor sleep and fatigue on cognition.

To learn more, go to our website: www.stjude.org/survivor-resources.