Sleep is one of the most important things for our bodies. Without it, you significantly decrease your ability to learn, concentrate, and react. It can also interfere with work and school performance, your ability to drive, as well as social interactions.
In North America, sleep deprivation is becoming more and more prevalent – especially in teenagers and young adults between the ages of 13 and 19. On average, teenagers need at least 8 to 9 hours of sleep, recommends Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Vancouver, Canada. However, studies have shown that most teenagers are really only getting anywhere from 6.5 to 7 hours of sleep each night – sometimes even less. Because of a lack of sleep, teenagers may fall asleep in class or be late for work. This could not only impact their grades, but also result in job loss if it happens on more than one occasion. Teenagers who don’t get enough sleep may also notice changes in their mood and/or behaviour – such as feeling crankier than usual, depressed, or may even have a lack of motivation to do tasks and other activities they once enjoyed. Dr. Ali Ghahary says that in order to stop sleep deprivation from impacting a teenager’s mental health, it needs to be combated as soon as possible.
Unlike adults, teenagers tend to be faced with many more distractions, with one of the biggest culprits being cell phone use – especially with increase in popularity of social media platforms (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.) “The use of social media by adolescents late at night seems to correlate with less sleep, difficulty getting up in the morning, underachievement at school and depression,” says Dr. Rachel Morehouse, a psychiatrist and medical director of the Sleep Centre at Saint John Regional Hospital. However, the issue does not simply stop at smartphones and social media. Teens who also have televisions in their rooms are also less likely to get the recommended amount of sleep, as are those who play video games. In fact, the World Health Organization just recently announced that they are set to recognize excessive video gaming as a mental health disorder given the number of ways in which it can affect your health – from lack of sleep, depression, an increase in violence, as well as eye problems.
In order to ensure teenagers are getting enough sleep each night, the first recommendation Dr. Ali Ghahary would make is to remove any possible distractions. If they have a television in their room, try to move that television into a different area of the home or have it so there is only one television available in the house for all family members to watch (i.e. the living room) – and set a curfew. For example, no television past 9 PM. Similarly, parents can also do the same thing with smartphones. Chances are teenagers will often protest to these changes and think of them as punishments – and may even give their parents the silent treatment for some time, but in the long-run you will be doing them a huge favour and helping to improve not only their overall health, but their academic success as well.