It is no secret that our culture has become more and more sleep deprived in recent years. Sleep deprivation is not limited to adults who are new parents, or over loaded with stress and work.
Teens are also skipping out on sleep, resulting in serious mood disorders, while increasing* their mental health risk for depression and future addiction issues. The sleep deprivation does not have to be for a long period of time, short-term sleep deprivation can still increase* risk.
Teens are living in a world of distraction, they are on their smart devices, social media, and watching Internet videos more then any other population group. In addition to those distractions, the demands of school, standardized testing, college applications result in staying up late and waking up early for school. This will increase* stress levels.
Increased stress produces stress hormones including cortisol resulting in insomnia and poor quality sleep. Cortisol is the stress hormone which was designed for the fight or flight mechanism we are genetically wired for. When cortisol is released it blocks the utilization of serotonin (the feel good hormone), melatonin (the sleep hormone, digestion, cell repair and many other functions not needed in the fight or flight situation. If this continues, the stress (cortisol release) also causes inflammation which adversely affects 85% of all diseases including mood disorders.
The activities of daily living for an average teenager are low compared to the generations before, teens are spending more time behind screens and less time breathing in fresh air and being active outside. Organized sports are great but leisure play and exploring nature naturally boost* mood. The endorphins released during exercise and activity will also help naturally boost* mood and improve* quality of sleep.
Yes, teens that are active in organized sports will still receive these benefits but that is only part of the teen population. It is also important to keep in mind that 1-2 hours of organized practice per day still does not make up for the excessive screen time throughout the rest of the day. The blue light in the smart devices can also suppress* serotonin and melatonin. These are both hormones related to overall mood and quality of sleep.
A study out of the University of Pittsburg sleep lab analyzed approximately 35 pre- teens and teens ages 11-15 years old. Within the two groups of teens, one group slept for approximately 10 hours per night, the other slept approximately 4 hours per night.
Each time they visited the lab, they were asked a series of questions regarding their emotional state, mood, reward perception, depression symptoms and they also underwent a brain scan each time.
The study showed that those who are sleep deprived through the pre teen and teen years interferes with the brain’s ability to process rewards. This hindered ability to process rewards will disrupt mood and increase* risk for addictive, risk taking behaviors, as well as depression.
Teens do not have fully developed brains and this results in a decreased* ability to make rational decisions, they take more risk and feel invincible. These behaviors coupled with poor sleep quality are a recipe for disaster. As mentioned before the teens are at increased risk for experimenting with drugs, alcohol, casual sex, and binge eating.
They best way to improve* sleep, decrease* the risk for the depression and anxiety mood disorders associated with teens and lack of sleep includes several strategies.
1. Turn off devices one hour before bed. The body will naturally prepare for sleep when it is dark and the brain is not falsely stimulated with bright lights from devices or florescent bulbs.
Avoid caffeine 5 hours or more before bedtime. Drinking coffee or energy drinks with caffeine disrupts the body’s ability to wind down for bed. Avoid all caffeine at least 5 hours before bedtime.
2. Stick to a schedule. Sleep thrives on a regular schedule; you cannot make up for not getting sleep by sleeping in late on the weekends. Try to sleep at least 7 hours and aim for 9 hours between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am. This is associated with the sunrise and sun set, which is our body’s natural sleep biorhythm.
3. Avoid heavy meals before bed and junk food. Our body is designed to repair and replenish during sleep, it is not designed to digest food, especially junk foods or a large meal. Avoid eating 1-3 hours before bedtime to allow your body proper time to digest while you are awake.
Junk foods will cause fluctuations in insulin and glucose levels, which may allow you to fall asleep quickly, but you will have a hard time staying asleep with these hormone fluctuations.
4. Be active. Teens do not have to participate in organized sports they should simply be active throughout the day and spend time in fresh air to release endorphins naturally and expend energy to increase* their ability to rest and fall asleep more easily at night.
Technology and smart devices can ruin our ability to rest, and clear our minds. Teens are still learning about how to deal with stress and emotions. Without down time from devices and healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise and nutrition their stress level and ability to sleep is going to be disrupted. Aim to be active, eat healthy, and limit screen time.
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