Sleep on this teens
A restful night can improve cognitive skills and emotional stability
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.
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.