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The merits of sleep

  • Head's Note
Tobin Bechtel

With the daylight savings time change coming this weekend I have been thinking about sleep, or more frequently, the lack of it. How much sleep do you get? Unfortunately for most Americans the answer is ’not enough’; the average teenager gets two and half hours less sleep than the commonly recommended nine hours. Teenagers actually need more sleep than their parents or younger siblings because of their neural changes that cause them to be learning so much at a super fast pace. We now know that sleep is much more than recuperation after a busy day. It is the time needed for the brain to consolidate memory and learning.  Sleep deprivation can inhibit neural development and multiple studies have shown links between a lack of sleep (or disturbed sleep) and juvenile delinquency, depression, obesity, high blood pressure, and increased susceptibility to addiction. (Jensen, The Teenage Brain, pp 88-98) 

Even though I am writing this on All Hallows Eve, I am not trying to scare everyone! Highlighting an issue is one way to begin to think more deeply about it. So what can we do? We can make the hours we have to sleep more conducive to deep sleep. We are recommended to turn off devices at least an hour before sleep to avoid melatonin suppression caused by artificial light so our bodies can make the transition to sleep. Having a consistent routine also helps and planning out an evening schedule can reduce anxiety. Allowing, when possible, for adolescents to follow their natural sleep cycles which are ‘hard-wired’ for them later and later from about age 11 at 10:30 pm to 12:00 am at age 18 with wake times at 8:00-10:00 am. And yes, I hear the call to start school later from students who read this. Not surprisingly, these approaches can make a difference for all of us.

So we all need to take advantage of our ‘extra hour’ this weekend. In the end, sleep is an important component of self care and in many ways neuroscience only confirms what we intrinsically know. In the end, I agree with the Irish proverb, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the best cures in the doctor’s book.”

  • head's note
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