Did you know that if you go over 19 hours without sleeping, you have the mental and physical faculties of a person who is legally drunk? Sleep is a very important part of ordinary human life. Sleep helps our brains and bodies to recuperate, and gives us energy for the next day. It affects our learning ability, memory, mood and attention span. It can also affect our reaction time, which means that a sleepy person behind the wheel of a car is just as dangerous as a drunk driver. The majority of people do not have a problem falling asleep, especially young children and older adults. However, the age group that has the hardest time getting sleep is teenagers.
People my age (teens between 13 and 18) are supposed to get roughly eight to ten hours of sleep a night. That’s too bad considering that over 80% of teens get 7 hours or less of sleep each night. Our internal clock might be one reason we miss out on our recommended amount of sleep. A person’s internal clock is how our bodies tell time. Everyone has one, but for teenagers, our internal clocks are wonky, which means that it can make it harder to fall asleep or wake up early. But there’s not much we can do about that now other than live with it.
Here’s the thing…most teenagers have other factors that impact how much and how well they sleep. One biggie is stress. Studies show that between the ages of 14 and 20, life is largely more stressful than any other age of human lives. Maybe because it comes from EVERYWHERE, like school, family dynamics, friends (or frenemies) and even our own hormones sometimes working against us. It can be hard to change or avoid things that can cause us stress. Luckily, I have found some tips for dealing with school and other stress inducing things that affect our sleep negatively.
- Prioritize: Give yourself specific times for any type of work, whether it be homework, a job, or chores. Also try to consolidate work time into large chunks.
- Be Realistic: Don’t try to take on more work than you know you can. Try focusing on few things so that you can excel in them, instead of being mediocre at a multitude of things. With this in mind, you can eliminate unnecessary activities.
- Balance out Stress: Do activities that help to relieve stress, like reading, writing, exercising, talking with friends. Not everyone is the same, so find the healthy thing that works for you and do that to reduce the stress you may be feeling.
- Keep a Sleep Schedule (no matter how silly it sounds): Make sure that you consistently get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. It’s ok to sleep in for a little while more when you can, but no more than an hour can mess up an already messed up internal clock.
The most helpful thing that a teen can try doing is getting an extra 60 minutes of sleep each night. This is because an extra hour can help: your mood, your grades, your memory, and your physical health.
By: Ellen Nikirk
Ellen Nikirk attends Garrison Forest High School. As a participant in the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Program, she is working with and learning from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Adolescent Health