This story is going to be a total snooze-fest. No, really. Sleep is awesome! It’s vital to our health and wellbeing. And we should talk about it more, especially because many of us don’t get enough sleep — which means we’re missing out.
People spend about a third of their lives sleeping. That might sound like time wasted, but it’s not. Even in a deep slumber, the brain is busy. It’s hard at work sorting memories, cleansing itself of harmful wastes and more. This time of rest also helps the body build stronger bones and heal wounds faster. Well-rested people tend to be happier and more alert during the day. Plus, they tend to deal better with stress.
Experts recommend that teens get about nine hours of sleep each night. But surveys show that teens are getting less and less sleep. Only about one-third of 18-year-olds now report getting at least seven hours of sleep per night. And that’s a problem. Lack of sleep has been linked to unhealthy eating and feeling more anxious. Sleep-deprived people also have higher risk of feeling depressed, using alcohol or drugs, or getting in car accidents.
It’s hard to say exactly why teens have become more sleep-deprived. One factor may be school start times. As people go through puberty, they become natural night owls. Their bodies don’t release the hormone melatonin — which tells the brain it’s time for bed — until later at night. This shifts their circadian rhythm such that sleep comes most easily between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. But most public middle and high schools in the United States start before 8:30 a.m.
Another reason for teens’ widespread sleep shortage may be screens. Survey data from 370,000 U.S. teens has shown an increase in trading sleep for screentime. But losing sleep to screens isn’t just a matter of choosing to stay up later. The light emitted by phones, laptops and other devices makes the brain resist sleepiness. That’s because the glow contains blue wavelengths also found in sunlight. This tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime.
Research suggests that people who use screens in bed have a harder time nodding off. New LED tech could lessen that effect. But in the meantime, experts suggest putting away electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. It might be hard to ex out of a lively group chat or save the next episode of a show until tomorrow, but turn off and turn in. Your body and brain will thank you.
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How healthy is your sleep schedule? Find out by keeping a sleep diary. Track when you wake up and go to bed, as well as daytime activities that can affect sleep — such as exercise, drinking caffeine and napping. This can help you find out whether you’re budgeting enough time for sleep, or if any part of your daily routine might be making it harder to get enough shut-eye. For advice on getting a better night’s sleep, check out these tips for improving your “sleep hygiene.”