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Teens and Sleep 101

The warmer days of spring are approaching and the summer will come around pretty soon. When this happens it is not uncommon for a teenager’s sleep patterns to change. School finishes, daylight lingers longer into the evening and suddenly teenagers are living on a vampire’s schedule – up all night and sleep all day (or at least until 1 or 2 pm). And we aren’t even going to talk about how difficult it will be to get back onto a school schedule in the fall. Forget about it!

As human beings, we have different sleep patterns at each stage of our lives. From the time we’re born to old age. Teenagers have particularly unusual sleep patterns because of all the changes that are occurring as you grow. Your hormones are raging, you’re ravenous all the time, and you are totally stressed out.

Your body is also more naturally hardwired to stay up later, but the average teen needs about 9.5 to 10 hours of sleep a night and this means that when you stay up later, sleep eats into your daytime hours and that messes with your hormones even more. Not testosterone or estrogen or all those hormones your health teachers are always talking about, but melatonin. Melatonin is a chemical in your body that reacts to sunlight and regulates your sleep (among other things). If you aren’t exposed to enough sunlight, that messes up your internal clock and confuses it when it is time to sleep and be awake.

So, what’s so important about sleep anyway? After all, you have things to do and people to see. Sleep is the last thing on your mind when it’s ten o’clock and the party is just getting started. Well, consider this:

When you are sleep deprived, you:

Have difficulty concentrating
Make bad choices
Are more likely to get into argument and fights
Have a harder time socializing
Are more likely to get into a car accident while driving
Are more likely to get sick
Are more likely to eat more and gain weight

In fact, sleep deprivation acts like many of these serious disorders:

General Anxiety Disorder
And, weirdly enough, sleep deprivation can cause insomnia – an inability to fall or stay asleep!

As we all know, sleep is what we need to feel rested, but it also cleans out our bodies, helps us to grow and heal and is something like a “reset” button on a computer – it brings the whole system back to default settings.

So, why aren’t teens getting enough sleep? Well, as mentioned above, teens are naturally hardwired to go to bed later and need more sleep than an adult and so this can create problems. On top of that, teens are busy and so a naturally later bedtime becomes unnaturally late – even into the wee hours of the morning. And teens these days are more stressed out than ever, which makes it difficult to get good sleep. Teens are also prone to sleep disorders such as apnea, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, acid reflux, or even chronic nightmares.

The first and most important thing you can do about your sleep is to be aware of it. Because sleep problems can seem like so many other things listed above, you might not even know you are sleep deprived. The first thing to do is to count how many hours of sleep you get a night. If it is significantly under 9-10, you need to try to increase it. If it is significantly more – like anything over 12 – you may have other problems and should talk to your doctor. In fact, if increasing your sleep doesn’t make you feel better or if you can’t sleep, talk to you doctor as well.

And remember, sleep isn’t just something we do, it’s an important part of taking care of our bodies.

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