We all already know that sleep is important. A good night’s sleep leaves us feeling well rested and ready to tackle a brand new day. However, we’re teenagers, and getting good sleep can be a challenge. Most of us have had that one night that we just felt too anxious or too restless to hit the hay. We’ve spent hours studying excessively for a stressful exam, running on caffeine and adrenaline. We’ve even spent all nighters texting our friends or trying to beat that one level in a video game, whether you want to admit it or not.
Not getting enough sleep is normal in moderation, and should even be expected from high school students. The teenage brain has been proven to produce melatonin, the hormone that regulates sleep, later at night than the brains of kids and adults. Our brains naturally want to stay up later than we’re supposed to. Unfortunately, this isn’t an excuse to consistently stay up until four in the morning. Teens need more sleep than adults to function properly, but why are we getting less sleep?
I asked a variety of high school students about their sleeping habits. I found that freshmen are the absolute worst at getting a decent amount of sleep (or maybe they just exaggerate more than the upperclassmen). Most freshmen claimed to only get 4-6 hours of sleep a night, while many upperclassmen were getting 6-8 hours a night. “I think I get four hours of sleep on a good night,” says Williamsville East freshman, Gia Panesar. Maybe it’s the stress of being in a new building with so many unfamiliar faces. It could be the pressure from all the honors classes many freshmen flood their schedules with. Perhaps they’re just not as experienced at getting decent sleep.
I used to be one of those restless freshmen, walking to and from classes like a brain-dead zombie after getting minimal sleep. I want you to know it is possible to change, and it’s not too late to start. I’m proud to say I went from being the worst sleeper, to getting up to 8.5 hours a night. Now, I have some tips for you sleep deprived freshies. Don’t be a brain dead zombie every single day at school. Here are Mia’s Top 5 Tips For Staying On Top of Sleep.
- Set a Routine. I know for high schoolers, routine can be a struggle. However, good sleep is set by having a solid routine that will benefit you later on. Try to go to bed at about the same time every night. This will set a rhythm and pattern into your brain so sleeping earlier isn’t as big of an issue. Also, only get in your bed if you intend to sleep. I know it’s tempting to lay the warm covers as you do your homework or scroll through Instagram, but it’s better to do those on a couch or at a desk. Only going in bed to sleep creates a stronger connection in your brain between sleep and your bed. As soon as your lay your head onto your pillow at night, your mind will know it’s time to relax and get to sleep.
- Let There Be Dark. There’s a good reason we sleep at night, and not during the day. Yes, it is easier to work in light, but it’s also because darkness triggers our brain to release more melatonin. Reduce the amount of light in your bedroom when you’re trying to sleep. This will let your brain know it’s about time for sleep. This means having curtains that can block out light from outside, putting away computers or phones, and shutting off any lamps or light sources that are blocking you from the wonderful sleep that awaits you.
- Don’t Force It. There’s absolutely zero point in tossing and turning in bed for endless hours if it’s not getting you anywhere. That’s like trying to force yourself to eat when you’re completely stuffed: it won’t work and there’s no point. Lying awake in bed and watching the minutes tick by is only going to stress you out and increase your anxiety. It seems counter productive, but you’re better off getting out of bed if you don’t feel any closer to sleep after 20 minutes of trying. Do a non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book, doodling, or writing an entry in a journal. You can also try deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation. These are meditative strategies proven to make you sleepier. YouTube has a large variety of videos that can help guide you through these techniques. These exercises are recommended by many professionals to those who are having trouble with sleep.
- Spend Your Daytime Wisely. We do many activities every single day that you wouldn’t suspect would affect our ability to fall asleep hours later, but they do. Eating is a huge factor for sleep. You should never eat a large meal two hours before you intend to go to bed. Your body will be focused on digesting the food, and you may not be able to get a good quality of sleep. Don’t go to sleep on an empty stomach either. If you feel hungry, it’s fine to eat a small snack before bed, such as a banana or yogurt. Never sleep on a full or an empty stomach; find a good balance. Exercising is also a factor. Exercise during the day helps you get better sleep at night, even if it’s just a relaxing walk around the neighborhood. Also, naps may be tempting if you’re exhausted, but don’t fall for them. Wake yourself up by engaging in household chores or homework. Naps will reduce your ability to fall asleep later on.
- Believe In Yourself. Cheesy, I know, but it’s true. If you just assume you could never possibly get more than five hours of sleep on a school night, you won’t even try. If you don’t bother to make an attempt, your sleep habits will never improve. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere. You should at least try to improve your sleep schedule, I can guarantee it’s worth it.
It’s also important to remember that too much sleep can be just as bad as too little sleep. Oversleeping may lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and higher fatigue. Students should strive to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night.
You may be enticed into staying up to study for that test, but it’s not worth it if it means sacrificing sleep. Sleep deprivation leads to difficulty with thinking, concentrating, and memorizing facts. Those are all things necessary for taking a test, so you will probably do better if you get a healthy amount of sleep and study in the prior evening or the morning of the test.
A lot of getting good sleep is about time management. Get your homework done as soon as you can without stressing yourself out, study for tests in advance, and take technology out of your room so it isn’t distracting. You already know that sleep is important, and you’re probably tired of hearing it. Understanding why it’s important is half the battle. Get some sleep so you can ace that test, raise your grades, and become a more positive and healthy person.