Whether we’re 1 or 104, there’s one thing we all have in common, and that’s the need to sleep. How much we need depends on a range of factors including age, health and lifestyle. Factors such as creating an attractive sleep environment can also influence how much we get.
According to The Sleep Council, the average adult needs 7-8 hours sleep per night, while teenagers need 9-11. However, despite needing more sleep, is this age group getting it? ‘Often not’, says Dr Peter Venn of The Sleep Disorder Clinic in East Grinstead, which treats over 2,500 adults and adolescents a year for sleeping disorders including Delayed Sleep Syndrome. It’s a common condition in adolescents in which sleep is delayed beyond socially acceptable or conventional bedtime, leaving them tired.
‘We all joke about teenager laziness, says Peter, but the truth is adolescents need more sleep than adults. When you compare a group of teens to 70-year-olds you find significant differences in the timing of their sleep. Nobody really knows why but it’s not all to do with lifestyle differences or the fact teenagers are more likely to be on their smartphones and suffer the effects of blue light.’ Blue light-emitting devices suppress the release of melatonin and interfere with our circadian clock which tells us when to wake and sleep.
Whatever the reason for lack of sleep, one thing is certain, it can have a major impact on our mood, mental health, personal life and for students of any age, their ability to learn and pass exams. And while we may expect teenagers to be stereotypically grumpy, their behaviour may not be just down to raging hormones. Here are three reasons why lack of sleep shouldn’t be ignored:
You don’t need to be a habitual insomniac to be familiar with brain fog. Even small changes to your routine can render you sleepy and impair your alertness, concentration and ability to perform attention-based activities, such as driving a car. In studies in which sleep-deprived individuals are asked to press a button to test their reaction time, response times often go from an average 250-300 milliseconds in non sleep-deprived individuals to one-half to one-second in those who’ve been kept awake. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) claims driver-fatigue may be a contributory factor in up to 20% of road accidents and up to one quarter of fatal and serious accidents. Another study suggests driving while sleep carries almost as much risk as alcohol ingestion.
If you want to keep your memory sharp, you need the right amount of sleep. Sleep triggers changes that help to strengthen connections between brain cells and transfer information from one brain region to another. This helps us recall memories and make them easier to access. Researchers have tested this process by teaching people new skills and then scanning their brains with and without sleep. In those who had a chance to sleep after practicing a skill the centers of the brain that control speed and accuracy were more active. A study organised by Belgium’s Ghent and KU Leuven universities found that student grades were nearly 10 percent higher in those who slept seven hours each night during the exam period than those who got less sleep.
Lack of sleep doesn’t just impair our ability to focus, learn and recall knowledge and events, it can hurt our ability to make sound judgement on what to do in a particular situation. This makes our ability to judge possibly the most powerful safety feature we have. While studies show that the developing adolescent brain functions differently to an adult’s when decision-making and problem-solving – and let’s face it, bad decisions are part of every child’s road to maturity - sleep deprivation can make adolescents particularly vulnerable to making the wrong decisions and prone to taking risks.
There are many things you can do to encourage a good night’s sleep, such as sleeping and waking at the same time each day and making sure your bedroom is dark enough to stimulate melatonin – the hormone that regulates sleep. Some foods such as banana and milk naturally encourage sleepiness. Sleeping in a room that’s not too hot or cold and under a duvet that’s the correct tog rating will also help prevent you from tossing and turning all night.
Picture: Maisons du Monde
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