• Teen Sleep - Don't Go Without It!

    Pulmonary Medicine

    June 6, 2018

    Sleep is really brain food and if you do not feed your brain, it does not function at its best.  A well-rested brain is important for athletic, academic and even social performance.  Have you ever noticed you are grumpier if you do not get enough rest? Having good short-term memory also requires our brains to be well nourished, which in this case means well slept.  Without good sleep, our neurocognitive abilities decline, important things like a person’s short-term recall, ability to concentrate and learn, ability to be socially appropriate and more.

    The human body requires sleep; without it we deteriorate and actually will die.  It is also well-established, that we need adequate sleep in order to function well. Just like the cell phone, the brain needs to be charged every night.  What constitutes enough sleep varies based on our age.  Many teenagers, are unaware of the fact they require about 9 hours of sleep each night.  Without this sleep, they function below their peak performance level in many areas. 

    Teenagers today generally get inadequate sleep because of many factors.  One factor is a lack of knowledge and understanding about sleep.   Another factor is the demands upon their time: school, social and work. One recent cultural factor is screen time.  Excessive screen time often delays bedtime, which shortens sleep time. An often unrecognized factor is a biologic factor.  A teenager’s brain battery holds a charge longer than needed. Around the normal bedtime of 10 o'clock, teenagers often still have charge on their brain battery.  This results in not feeling the need to sleep and recharge, consequently they stay up later resulting in a short night’s sleep.  The unrecognized problem is the teen brain battery needs more time than an adult’s does to recharge; at least 9 hours and in some cases 10 hours of sleep.  Without adequate time in sleep, the brain is not well fed with a consequence on daytime function.

    Many studies show the impact lack of sleep has on performance, particularly academic performance and the ability to learn.  If you are not well rested, it is very difficult to learn.  Research has also shown that we are more easily distracted when we are tired.  Distraction, the opposite of concentration, is the enemy of learning.  Some children (and adults) have sleep deprivation as a contributing factor to attention deficit disorder.

    So, what constitutes good sleep? A simple way to judge whether you are getting adequate quality sleep is to evaluate two components of your day.  First is waking up.   If it takes multiple alarm clocks and multiple pushes of the snooze alarm to start your day, something is wrong.  Not waking up refreshed means something about the quality and/or quantity of sleep is inadequate.  Likewise, if midday you cannot stay awake when you want to or need to, if you struggle with nodding off, something is wrong with your sleep. 

    There are a number of ways to improve sleep.  One mistake made by teens is that they make the assumption that, “If I am not feeling sleepy, then I cannot go to sleep,” which is not necessarily true. A regular sleep schedule is important, and the most important part in a regular schedule is not when you go to bed, but when you get up.  A second mistake is when teenagers are behind on sleep, they often sleep later. For instance, rather than getting up at 7 a.m. to catch the school bus, they will sleep until 10 or 11. If you do that on two days of the weekend, you are essentially changing time zones every weekend. Come Monday morning, you are in the wrong time zone to get up, which makes things worse.  I recommend the following:

    • Establish a regular rise time within a 60 minute window each morning
    • Get adequate daily exercise of at least 30 minutes
    • Allow yourself to go to sleep at a reasonable hour routinely
    • Shut off electronic devices like the phone and TV
    • Unplug. Tell yourself it is okay to go to sleep

    Teenagers have a few unique issues around sleep, but everyone needs to better understand their sleep and respect the need for quality sleep.   With good sleep habits, we enhance our potential in the classroom.  We enhance our coping and relational abilities.  Rested people are more prepared to deal with the challenges of the day.

    Lee Edmonds, MD, is an attending physician at Bassett Medical Center and the Division Chief of Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine, and Medical Director for the Bassett Sleep Disorder Center.

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