Much like air, food, and water, every human being needs sleep in order to live and maintain their overall mental, physical, and emotional well-being. Though sleep is necessary for everyone, there is one group for which proper restorative sleep is particularly important: Adolescents.
Looking back at our middle and high school years, we can each likely recall an instance or two of rushing into school having slept through an alarm, or of nodding off during a history lesson. The presence of sleepy teenagers roaming the hallways of schools across the country is far too common, and this norm of sleep deprivation inhibits these growing individuals from reaching their full potential.
What causes sleep-deprivation?
Between homework, social events, and family commitments, many teenagers struggle to fit all of their responsibilities into their schedules. And since the “dog ate my homework” excuse will likely not fly, adolescents often find themselves up late studying, bypassing much-needed Z’s in order to meet deadlines or to prepare for tests. While the satisfaction of completing one’s work on time is ideal, the negative impact of sleep-deprivation will likely take its toll on a young body.
Consequences of poor Sleep
In addition to ending up on the teacher’s bad side for showing up late or sleeping through lessons, there are a number of consequences to poor sleep facing many adolescents. If a teen exhibits any of the following, it may be time for a schedule adjustment with sleep as the number one priority:
• Poor concentration and problem-solving abilities
• Acne and other skin problems
• Weight gain
• Aggressive behavior
• Impatience with family members, friends, or teachers
• Driving drowsy
Research shows that when asleep, our brains consolidate new information learned during the day. It’s hypothesized that at night, information is sent to the memory region of the brain (called the hippocampus), where proteins strengthen connections between nerve cells consolidating the newly learning information. During the deeper stages of sleep, the brain reenacts lessons learned, further solidifying the newly-made connections in one’s memory. It is therefore imperative that an adolescent get a good night’s sleep in order to recall any new skill or information in the future.
How to Improve Sleep
Experts recommend that adolescents get between 8-10 hours of sleep each night in order to function optimally. There are a number of adjustments teens can make starting today to improve their sleep environment and foster a healthier and more productive lifestyle:
• Prioritize sleep: Adjusting one’s schedule to get enough sleep is crucial, even if it means dropping an extracurricular or starting homework assignments earlier in the evening.
• Eliminate outside noise: Limiting the number of sleep disturbances at night is key to getting good sleep. This can be done by installing soundproof windows built to block out noises determined to keep adolescents awake.
• Power down the electronics: Exposure to light and darkness is key to regulating the body’s sleep and biological clock. The glow of a laptop or cellphone can lead to too much stimulation; therefore it is best to put them out of sight at bedtime.
• Build a bedtime routine: Train your body to signal when it’s time to hit the sack by doing the same activities before sleep each night. Taking a shower, reading a book, or writing in a journal are all good pre-bedtime activities.