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Having adequate sleep is necessary if a person is to remain mentally and physically alert. The amount of sleep required varies from person to person. Though the exact function of sleep is not understood, laboratory experiments conducted on animals, show that animals who are deprived of sleep die in 2 to 3 weeks, in a manner similar to animals dying of starvation .
The amount of sleep a person needs changes during their lifetime depending on their age. Newborn babies sleep for 16 to 18 hours a day. Children older than 3 years sleep for 10 to 12 hours a day. The sleeping patterns for the rest of the life are fixed during adolescence. Most teenagers ideally require 9 hours of sleep, though they usually sleep for fewer hours. Most adults require 7 to 8 hours of continuous sleep everyday.
Elderly people usually sleep for fewer hours because they are unable to get deep sleep and are woken up easily by noise, light and pain. They also maybe suffering from medical problems which make it difficult to sleep well. Small children are not woken up easily, especially early at night. They are usually not even disturbed by loud noises.
If a person does not get enough sleep in a day, a sleep debt occurs. Even getting an hours sleep less every day can cause a sleep debt. The sleep debt may be compensated by sleeping for more hours the next day. A person who does not sleep enough, may seem normal but will be less alert mentally. Stimulants like coffee can counteract only a few of the side effects of lack of sleep.
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