It’s time for a pop quiz, everyone. How many hours of sleep per night should you get as a teenager?
Nope. Studies show that most teens need exactly 9 ¼ hours. Now be honest with yourselves--how many hours of sleep do you actually average each night?
If you’re like most high schoolers, you’re balancing a heavy load of classes, homework, extra-curriculars, work, chores, church activities, family and friends. In addition, your body is going through major changes that you may not have heard about in health class.
Did you know that after you go through puberty, your circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycles make a biological shift of about two hours? The sleep hormone melatonin begins to kick in later, so if you used to go to bed at 9:00 PM, you may find it difficult to fall asleep before 11:00 PM. You’ll also find it more difficult to wake up early in the morning.
In other words, sleeping in doesn’t make you lazy — it makes you a teenager.
Sleep is necessary for everyone, but it’s especially important for high schoolers. Why? Because you’re going through intense mental, emotional, social, and physical developments. Getting enough shut-eye makes especially these areas of your life function well:
Quality sleep helps you think clearly to be able to solve problems, think creatively, focus, and retain information. (And it also keeps you from falling asleep in class.) Deep sleep, or REM sleep, is what especially enables your brain to achieve higher cognitive functioning.
Have you ever been told that you woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Most likely you just didn’t have enough time in bed. Sleep is key for good emotional health. Without it, you are at greater risk for poor emotional health and anxiety, depression, and even bipolar disorder, not to mention general crankiness. Without enough sleep, problems seem bigger and resilience more challenging.
Every system in your body depends on sleep for recovery, particularly the cardiovascular and immune systems. When you get enough sleep, your muscles relax, your brain rests, and your metabolism is regulated so that you can regain strength and energy and fight disease and infection. Without enough sleep, you are at a greater risk for heart problems, diabetes, and sickness.
You’re at a time in your life when you have to make many decisions, small and big, ranging from your daily driving choices to what college you should attend. Did you know that sleep affects your frontal lobe, which is your control center for impulsive action? Without enough sleep, studies show that teens are more likely to have a difficult time making decisions, and also to participate in high-risk behavior like texting while driving, driving too fast, drug-use, sexual activity and more.
If you’re finding it difficult to sleep well or long enough like a majority of teens, consider these helpful solutions:
- Fall asleep easier by getting sun and exercise
Eating breakfast near a window in the sunshine first thing in the morning balances your body clock so that you can fall asleep easier at night. So does getting exercise. Fortunately Colorado gets 300 days of sun a year, and sunshine and exercise are best friends.
- Get to bed on time by scheduling priorities first
Try to keep a consistent schedule each day, putting the important things first. If you do homework before fun, then you won’t be cramming for a test right before bed, causing yourself unnecessary stress.
- Maintain a bedtime ritual
Yes, you know what this means--have at least a thirty minute break from screens before bedtime. Wind-down your brain by reading, journaling, praying, drinking a cup of herbal tea (not caffeinated!), or taking a relaxing bath or shower. Help your body get used to going to sleep at the same time every night.
- Create a comfortable sleep environment
Is your room dark, quiet, and cool enough? If not, you may want to consider black-out curtains or a white-noise machine. Is your bed comfortable? The type of pillow you need can be determined by your habit of side or back-sleeping. Consult with your parents and your doctor for their recommendations.
Now that you know the sleep facts, do your body and brain a favor and make sleep a priority every day. It may be challenging to adjust to the new schedule, but you’ll find that it will get easier as time goes on and you’ll be a much happier, well-rested, functional human being.