Sleep on this teens

A rest­ful night can im­prove cog­ni­tive skills and emo­tional sta­bil­ity

The London Free Press - - LIFE - COM­MENT DEB­O­RAH KRIS

Teens need sleep.

We have moun­tains of re­search on the dan­gers of sleep de­pri­va­tion — how it in­creases the risk of de­pres­sion, makes it dif­fi­cult to reg­u­late emo­tions, dam­ages health and im­pairs cog­ni­tive func­tion­ing.

On some level, ado­les­cents al­ready know this.

I run work­shops with mid­dle school stu­dents about learn­ing and the brain.

The week we cov­ered sleep, they couldn’t stop talk­ing.

Dur­ing our starter ac­tiv­ity, they filled their note­books and the white­board with ways sleep de­pri­va­tion af­fects their think­ing, their phys­i­cal health and, most an­i­mat­edly, their emo­tional sta­bil­ity.

Know­ing all this, though, doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily trans­late to a change in be­hav­iour.

The Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Pe­di­atrics calls in­suf­fi­cient sleep in ado­les­cents a “key pub­lic health is­sue” that poses a “se­ri­ous risk to the phys­i­cal and emo­tional health, aca­demic suc­cess and safety of our na­tion’s youth.”

Teens need at least eight hours of sleep per night for op­ti­mal func­tion­ing, but they aren’t get­ting it.

In fact, by Grade 12, 75 per cent of stu­dents re­port get­ting less than eight hours of sleep on school nights, com­pared with 16 per cent of sixth-graders.

So rather than re­mind­ing my stu­dents of the dire con­se­quences of poor sleep habits, I tried talk­ing about all the in­cred­i­ble things that hap­pen in­side your brain while you sleep.

My goal was to show them that it’s worth mak­ing small changes that help you sleep a lit­tle longer and a lit­tle bet­ter.

The ben­e­fits of sleep

We learn when we dream. When you dream, your brain lights up with ac­tiv­ity as it pro­cesses what you ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the day.

It re­views and re­hearses in­for­ma­tion, link­ing it to what you al­ready know.

All of this strength­ens your neu­ral path­ways and helps you learn.

In one study from Har­vard Med­i­cal School, re­searchers tasked col­lege stu­dents with a chal­leng­ing com­puter maze. Af­ter, they took a nap. Stu­dents who dreamed about the maze showed a marked im­prove­ment in their abil­ity to solve it.

Sleep “cleans up” the brain. When you sleep, your brain re­moves in­for­ma­tion you don’t need and con­sol­i­dates what you learned that day.

This makes room for new learn­ing.

Af­ter all, do you re­ally need to re­mem­ber what socks you wore or what you ate for break­fast?

Sleep im­proves aca­demic per­for­mance.

Suf­fi­cient sleep can lead to im­proved re­call, faster re­sponse time and more fluid prob­lem­solv­ing.

In a 1998 study of 3,000 high school stu­dents, re­searchers out of Brown and Holy Cross uni­ver­si­ties found that stu­dents who av­er­aged Cs, Ds and Fs went to bed an av­er­age of 40 min­utes later than stu­dents who av­er­aged As and Bs.

Sleep helps you stay emo­tion­ally reg­u­lated.

Sleep im­proves our abil­ity to man­age our emo­tions and re­spond to the chal­lenges of each day.

Again, dream­ing is part of this equation.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search out of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, when we dream, we process and make sense of emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences.

Sleep keeps the amyg­dala work­ing prop­erly — that’s the part of the brain that helps con­trol our emo­tional re­sponses, in­clud­ing fear, anger and anx­i­ety.

When your amyg­dala is tired, it’s harder to look at sit­u­a­tions ob­jec­tively, so lit­tle things can feel over­whelm­ing.

Sleep im­proves your health and athletic per­for­mance.

Sleep im­proves your im­mune sys­tem.

Among a long list of health ben­e­fits, it makes you less sus­cep­ti­ble to the com­mon cold.

And for ath­letes, sleep im­proves re­ac­tion time and ac­cu­racy rates, re­duces in­jury rates and is closely tied to achiev­ing peak per­for­mance.

Four ways to help your child get a bet­ter night’s sleep:

Es­tab­lish a rou­tine.

New par­ents are of­ten re­li­gious about bed­time rou­tines.

Teens and adults can take a les­son from how we han­dle ba­bies.

Our brains love rou­tines, and do­ing cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties in a cer­tain

or­der alerts the brain that sleep is on the way.

Mind the blue light and caf­feine.

Our brains are de­signed to get sleepier when the sun sets.

The blue light emit­ted by smart­phones, tablets, com­put­ers and TVs can make it more dif­fi­cult for your body to fall into deep sleep be­cause it can mess with the se­cre­tion of mela­tonin, the hor­mone that helps reg­u­late our sleep-wake cy­cles.

The work­around?

Get off screens at least 30 min­utes be­fore bed­time (and keep them out of your bed­room).

when you do work on them at night, dim your screens or put them on au­to­matic night mode (called Night Shift on iPhones).

Also, be­cause caf­feine in­creases adrenalin — and be­cause it takes at least six hours to get out of your sys­tem — it’s best to limit these drinks to the morn­ing (if at all).

Calm your brain. De­velop a set of strate­gies for calm­ing the mind from guided med­i­ta­tions to ex­er­cises where you fo­cus on, and re­lax, each of your mus­cles.

The free med­i­ta­tions from UCLA’s Mind­ful Aware­ness Re­search Cen­ter are a great re­source.

Take con­trol of your evening. Plenty of teens and adults want more sleep, but we have a lot of de­mands on our time (here’s look­ing at you, home­work).

But there are ways to take more own­er­ship of our time, leav­ing more time for sleep.

One of my favourites is the Po­modoro Tech­nique.

First, choose a task to ac­com­plish and turn off all dis­trac­tions — text no­ti­fi­ca­tions, email no­ti­fi­ca­tions, etc.

Then set a timer for 25 min­utes and work un­til the timer goes off (sev­eral of my stu­dents use an app called For­est to help with this).

a five-minute break: Stretch, walk around, grab a snack, etc.

Af­ter three or four 25-minute in­ter­vals, take a longer break (15 to 30 min­utes) to recharge.


The blue light emit­ted from the screens of our de­vices mim­ics day­light and can keep us awake, so it’s best to put them away well be­fore bed­time.

Though many teenagers and adults want more sleep, our busy sched­ules of­ten get in the way.

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