Bedtime is the best time!

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Sleep is among the most important functions of the human body. Many other aspects of physical health and mental health are heavily dependent on the quality of sleep. For example, performance levels, mood, and your mental headspace can be impacted by the quality and amount of sleep you receive. 

This information is not new! These benefits have been drilled into our heads as little kids, and yet as adolescents we still happen to fall short with our sleeping habits. We pull all-nighters studying for a math exam. We stay up late at night, heavily consumed by our devices. We put off going to sleep, and instead prioritize finishing up homework at the last minute, actively engaging on social media, texting with friends, etc. 

The condition of insufficient sleep is called sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation is a common and prevalent problem amongst adolescents. Not getting enough sleep can lead to grogginess, a decreased ability to focus in school, and fluctuations in mood. Furthermore, sleep deprivation, if prolonged, can even lead to chronic health problems, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and hormonal imbalances. As adolescents, we don’t experience these detrimental effects head-on, and so we continue to put off sleep. 

 

Science behind sleep

The body’s internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, is the overruling system that regulates and controls the sleep cycle. It essentially dictates the body’s need for sleep and wakefulness. Many biological compounds and chemicals work hand-in-hand with the circadian rhythm to control your sleep-wake cycle. For example, a hormone called melatonin works with the environment in the progression of sleep. When the environment around you starts to get dark, melatonin is produced in response to this change in light. This explains why you may feel more energized in the daytime and sleepier around nighttime. Outside factors, such as the blue light that is emitted from your phone, can disrupt the secretion of this essential hormone and can throw off your circadian rhythm. When sleep and wake times are not aligned with the circadian rhythm, exhaustion, cognitive dysfunction, and performance level may be skewed. 

There are four distinct stages to the sleep cycle, each having a unique function that is responsible for maintaining one’s physical and mental health. 

  • Stage 1 Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) – Period between sleep and wakefulness, and typically lasts between 5-10 minutes. 

  • Stage 2 Non-Rapid Eye Movement – Body temperature starts to decrease, heart and breathing rate become more regular, the brain starts to produce sleep spindles, and you are less aware of your surroundings. Lasts about 20 minutes. 

  • Stage 3 Non-Rapid Eye Movement – Deepest sleep where the muscles begin to relax and blood pressure decreases. 

  • Stage 4 Rapid Eye Movement (REM) – The brain becomes active in order to start dreaming, your eyes move rapidly, and your breathing becomes fast and irregular.

Not receiving an adequate amount of sleep each night, especially between the ages where the brain is still developing, can adversely create many mental impacts. Sleep deprivation increases the chances of developing mental health issues including anxiety, depressive symptoms, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. The effects of sleep deprivation extend beyond mental health and can cause cognitive impairments. Adolescents that receive insignificant amounts of sleep are correlated with developing mood disorders causing stress, anger, decreasing levels of sociability, and mental exhaustion. Aside from mental health, studies have shown that lack of sleep can be associated with cognitive impairments. Sleep deprivation causes impairments in one’s working memory performance, impulse control, academic performance, and decision making. 

Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand, so it’s no surprise that sleep deprivation can have many effects on your body’s physical well-being. Sleep deprivation can result in numerous health issues, more specifically chronic health issues – both long-term and short-term. For instance, insufficient sleep can have negative effects on glucose tolerance, and in turn quality of sleep. Unpredictable or inconsistent glucose levels may result in the development of type 2 diabetes. Obesity and sleep deprivation may also be linked as a result of changes in metabolism. When sleeping, the body releases hormones controlling the body’s energy metabolism, glucose processing, and appetite. Leptin and ghrelin are hormones that regulate appetite, and when you aren’t getting sufficient sleep, the production of these hormones is altered in a way that creates increased feelings of hunger. This results in increased food consumption and weight gain. Not getting enough sleep may also induce elevated blood pressure resulting in heightened risk for certain heart conditions, including hypertension, stroke, coronary heart disease, and cardiac arrhythmias. 

 

Ways to improve your sleeping habits

One of the main habits that you can implement to improve your relationship with sleep is keeping a consistent sleep schedule. This means going to bed and waking up around the same time every day – even on the weekends! Keeping a consistent schedule and sticking to it, as well as keeping in mind getting enough hours of sleep can benefit you and your health. Not only will this help you feel energized and refreshed for the next day, but it can also give structure to your day. You may feel more productive and your body will get used to knowing when to go to bed and when to wake up without the need for an alarm clock. 

 

Another helpful tip in improving your sleep hygiene is to exercise regularly. Getting some physical activity every day can help contribute to a better night’s sleep. Even just going for a 15-minute walk or doing some light stretches before bed can help improve blood flow, decrease muscle tension, and it can help you relax and de-stress. 

 

Phones and devices can be a huge distraction when it comes to sleep. The blue light emitted from your phone mimics artificial daylight, which can keep you awake at night. Also, using your phone to text friends, play games, engage on social media, etc. can be stimulating and it can release doses of dopamine that keep you pumped up. Scrolling through social media can also contribute to emotions of stress, anxiety, and distracting thoughts. Reducing screen time and putting devices away at least an hour before bed can help better your quality of sleep. 

 

More about our capstone project 

We are sharing this information with the intent of raising awareness on the importance of sleep – especially in adolescents. We have created multiple projects collaborating with the community to help educate the general public of Mountain House. 

You can check out our Instagram page: @bedtime.best.time https://www.instagram.com/bedtime.best.time/ to learn more information on what we are doing for our capstone project. You can also check out our youtube channel https://tinyurl.com/BTBT-youtube

Always remember, bedtime is the best time!