By now we all know that the body uses sleep to re-energize many of its cells and the brain uses it to enhance memories and solve problems. Studies show you are more likely to remember something later when you get some zzz’s after learning it. First to understand sleep — our Circadian Rhythm is an internal clock that tells us when it is time to wake and time to sleep. Our brain does this by releasing a hormone called melatonin which makes us drowsy. But in puberty, this clock shifts, and you feel like sleeping and waking 1 to 3 hours later than usual – even though school starts at the same time. Biochemicals, including one called adenosine, build up in the brain the longer you’re awake. The more biochemicals your brain collects, the more tired you get. But in teenagers, this buildup happens more slowly, than in children making them more able to stay up later.
Teenagers actually need more sleep than adults because their bodies are changing. But a recent survey found that as few as 14% of them get that nine or more hours of sleep needed on weeknights. Twice as many get seven hours or less and this sleep deficit can drag down their mental and physical health, perhaps even permanently. Over the long term, lack of sleep in teenagers has been shown to put them at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, drug use, bad grades, and low self-esteem. Sleep deprivation may also cause permanent cellular damage and adolescence is a terrible time to put added stress on the brain because it is changing rapidly, creating new pathways and pruning old ones.
Today’s teenagers also have the technological temptations that earlier generations didn’t face. In one study of 100 adolescents, the teens did an average of four different tech-related activities after 9pm, including going online, watching TV, playing video games, and using their cell phones. The more tech they used, the harder it was to fall asleep and the sleepier they were in school. One reason tech use inhibits sleep is that their blue-wave light tells the body that it is still daytime, preventing the release of melatonin.
Mary Carskadon, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University has called the combination of factors that affect sleep in teenagers – circadian rhythm delay, reduced sleep pressure, electronic use, increased academic pressure, early school start times and freedom to set their own bed time –a “perfect storm” for sleep deficit.
WHAT TO DO:
- Get all technology out of the bedroom
- Avoid bright lights right before bed
- Create a pre-sleep ritual that helps you wind down at the end of the day
- Use your bed only for sleeping. If you use it for reading, working or talking, tucking in won’t act as a trigger for sleep.
- Go to sleep at different times every night.
- Drink any caffeine for 6-8 hours before bed (it lasts in your body long after the initial buzz wears off).
- Ignore the signals you’re getting from your body if you are feeling tired and anxious and falling asleep in class. Go to bed earlier and follow the other sleep tips.