After a school day of dodging gossip and stressing about tests and her reflection in the bathroom mirror, she enters an afternoon and evening of merry-go-round extracurriculars and an eat-when-you-can dinner. With the little energy she has left, she crawls into bed and hoovers her phone within a few inches of her face, the light from her tiny screen illuminating her bedroom and pulling her into a hypnotic social media-induced trance. Within seconds, she falls into the social media dark hole, which results in an even later ‘lights out’ and an even more tired tomorrow.
The following morning she struggles to stay awake in first-period History and by the time lunch break arrives, she’s grabbed so many sugary snacks and caffeine-rich beverages to stay awake that she doesn’t eat the protein and veggie-packed lunch her mom slid into her bookbag. Instead of eating that, she uses her lunch period to start on homework because once school ends, she won’t have time for academics until about 11:30 pm due to after school commitments.
Teens & Adults Suffer
Although the use of ‘school day’ lends itself to assuming this passage is about a teenager, it just as well could be about an adult. Both teens and adults often look at sleep as something they both crave and can’t commit to on a regular basis. Like two star-crossed lovers on opposite sides of an impenetrable wall, sleep and people know they need each other, and yet they can’t get to each other for the amount of time that is needed to build a healthy, long-lasting relationship.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “a third of US adults report that they usually get less than the recommended amount of sleep.” As for teens, Stanford Medicine shared that “more than 87 percent of U.S. high school students get far less than the recommended eight to ten hours of sleep each night.”
Lack of Sleep Leads to Increased Struggles
Why all this fuss about sleep, you ask?
As the CDC reports, “not getting enough sleep is linked with many chronic diseases and conditions- such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression…” and “… can lead to motor vehicle crashes and mistakes at work, which cause a lot of injury and disability each year.” Caringforkids.cps.ca adds that when it comes to teens, those who do not obtain the proper amount of sleep have an increased likelihood to:
- struggle in school
- have trouble with memory, concentration, and motivation
- be involved in car crashes and other accidents because reaction times are impaired
- feel depressed
To the above list of what teens with an inadequate amount of sleep time have an increased likelihood of experiencing, sleepfoundation.org adds the following:
- more prone to acne and other skin problems
- aggressive or inappropriate behavior such as yelling at friends or being impatient with teachers or family members
- eat too much or eat unhealthy foods like sweets and fried foods that lead to weight gain
- heighten the effects of alcohol and possibly increase the use of caffeine and nicotine
So just how much sleep should everyone be receiving?
Cleveland Clinic says each night children ages 5 through 12 need between 10 and 11 hours of sleep, teenagers need between 8.50 and 9.25 hours, and adults need 7 to 9 hours. Count the hours you sleep and the hours of sleep experienced by everyone else in your home. How many of you are actually getting the amount of sleep your body requires on a daily basis?
Overhaul Your Sleep
But what do you do if your body is used to too little sleep and too much outside stimulus, like binge-watching Netflix at midnight and checking social media more times than you spend on homework?
Cancer.org gives the following ten tips for adults who want to work on their less than stellar sleep schedule:
- Go to sleep at the same time each night, and get up at the same time each morning, even on the weekends.
- Don’t take naps after 3 pm, and don’t nap longer than 20 minutes.
- Stay away from caffeine and alcohol late in the day.
- Avoid nicotine completely.
- Get regular exercise, but not within 2-3 hours of bedtime.
- Don’t eat a heavy meal late in the day. (A light snack before bedtime is OK.)
- Make your bedroom comfortable, dark, quiet, and not too warm or cold.
- Follow a routine to help you relax before sleep (for example, reading or listening to music). Turn off the TV and other screens at least an hour before bedtime.
- Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, do something calming until you feel sleepy, like reading or listening to soft music.
- Talk with a doctor if you continue to have trouble sleeping.
When it comes to teens, cancer.org says to consider the above list as well as the following:
- Avoid screen time at least an hour before bed.
- Ban all-nighters (Don’t leave homework for the last minute!)
- Write in a diary or on a to-do list just before sleep to reduce stress.
- Sleep no more than 2 hours later on weekend mornings than on weekday mornings.
The Three Amigos: Sleep, Exercise, & Nutrition
Sleepfoundation.org points out the powerful connection between sleep, exercise, and nutrition. From taking a natural sleep aid, such as Inositol, to sleepfoundation.org’s findings that “people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to have bigger appetites due to the fact that their leptin levels (leptin is an appetite-regulating hormone) fall, promoting appetite increase,” consuming the proper amount of sleep is key to a healthy lifestyle.
Here’s the bottom line: Depriving yourself of sleep is not a ticket to martyrdom.
There are times when sleep escapes you and it can largely be out of your control, such as when your child is an infant or if you need to work more hours to pay your bills, but then there are times when you’re allowing electronics and caffeine and outside stimuli to rob you of the sleep your body desperately needs.
It’s recognizing when you’re losing sleep for reasons in your control that will help you take control of your sleep and in many ways, your life.
Author: Evelyn Lindell
Certified Health & Wellness Coach