Do you have trouble sleeping?
Have you found yourself tired and lethargic at school? Unable to focus in class? “Dragging” by the end of the day, or sooner?
If so, you’re not alone. A recent study found that 75% of young adults aren’t getting enough sleep.
You’ve probably heard people (parent and teachers) tell you that you’re “staring at that screen” (phone, tablet, TV) too long, that it’s bad for you, etc. While we can’t exclude this from our list of sleep factors, it’s not the only thing that’s making people of all ages suffer from diminishing sleep quantity and quality. Let’s dig deeper, explore the many reasons, and find some strategies that will help you sleep better.
Why is sleep important? How much is enough? And other sleep questions, answered…
The quest for a “good night’s sleep” is not a new one. The phrase itself has been around seemingly forever, implying the desire to have quality sleep; the satisfaction of getting it; and the effects brought on by not sleeping right.
Human beings need sleep. Lots of it, on a regular and consistent basis.
While some people boast that they can go with as little as two or three hours sleep a night, these claims and their long-term effects on physical and physiological health are unsubstantiated.
“The full 8 hours” is another adage, with plenty of science behind it. That’s the number that people in industrialized countries have strived for over many decades now. Some people find that they can sleep seven hours, some nine, and so it generally averages out to an accepted figure at eight hours.
How about children and teens? Do they need more sleep?
Yes, indeed, studies have shown that young adults and pre-teens need 8-10 hours or more of sleep per night.
“Sleep is not optional. It’s a health imperative, like eating, breathing and physical activity,” Dr. Judith A. Owens told the New York Times. “This is a huge issue for adolescents.”
Canadian guidelines suggest the following:
- Children from age 5 to 13 get 9-11 hours of sleep per day
- Young adults 13-17 years old get 8-10 hours of sleep
Why is this level of sleep necessary?
On the positive side, when we sleep enough we tend to:
- Feel better physically
- Be better focused, have more concentration
- Be happier or more satisfied/contented with our lives
- Have more energy to do more things
- Be more productive (better grades, better at work, etc.)
Conversely, what happens when our sleep suffers, from a lack of sleep hours and/or quality of sleep?
- Tired and lethargic, from the morning onward
- Lack focus, less sharp
- More likely to experience frustration, dissatisfaction, unhappiness… even depression
- Clinical depression and anxiety are likelier to manifest themselves, as are post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain
- Less energy for school, work, sports, other activities
- Less productive – grades go down, work suffers, etc.
And these are just the short-term, more immediately noticeable results. What about long term? What does poor sleep mean for our future? Why is getting more/better sleep now something for which your future self will thank you?
- You’re apt to have better memory and retention for years to come
- More likely to experience more satisfaction, pleasure, fun and happiness in life
- Be less likely to experience depression, anxiety and/or other emotional health issues
- And better sleep now (and continued over time) is said to improve your physical health, lessening your chances of disease or premature death
- You’ll be more “attractive” to other people – this takes the form of physical appearance (you’ll appear more vibrant and healthy) as well as intangible attributes (people are generally drawn to other people who appear happy and exude confidence; whereas they tend not to want to be around people who are unhappy, negative, etc.)
You can see the value of sleep. So why do most of us not sleep well? What are we doing or not doing to prevent a good night’s sleep?
Why aren’t we getting enough sleep?
What’s in the way between you and proper sleep?
It’s probably a combination of factors. Everyone’s situation, of course, is a little different.
Maybe you’ve got “something on your mind.” We’ve all been there. Trying to solve a problem or figure our way out of a quandary is a timeless barricade to good sleep. But that’s usually more of a temporary thing, wouldn’t you agree? Whatever it is that we’re trying to resolve, more often gets taken care of (one way or another) in a matter of days or weeks. Okay, maybe months, in some extreme cases.
If it’s been a long time (like, years or several long months) that you’re not generally not experiencing good sleep, however, there’s a better likelihood that this is being caused by other issues.
Let’s start by looking at your Circadian Rhythm
For teens especially, this is a big factor, one that’s finally getting the kind of awareness it deserves. Circadian rhythm refers to our internal biological clocks, what times we go to sleep and wake up, as well as the intensity and quality of sleep we experience. The more consistent we can be with our bedtimes, the better off we’ll be – both short-term and long-term – in all of the sleep health factors mentioned above.
Exercise and physical activity
Youth need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous levels of physical activity every day. This activity should take place in the morning or afternoon, ideally; or early evening at the latest. Physical exertion before bedtime can make it tougher to fall asleep. Sports are great, formal or otherwise. Running/jogging, swimming, cycling and other cardio activity are all helpful. You can do some of these on your own, and other activities in pairs or as part of a team. The latter provides a social interaction that also contributes to your overall wellness (and ability to sleep).
Depression and anxiety can go hand in hand with sleep issues
Admittedly, we get into one of those “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” situations when it comes to depression & anxiety, and how they interact with sleep. Does depression cause sleep disorders? Yes. Can poor sleep lead to anxiety? Absolutely. Were you suffering from depression before losing quality sleep, or did chronic sleep issues cause your anxiety? The answers to those questions are very individualized. If you already suffer from an emotional or mental health condition, not getting proper sleep will probably exacerbate it. If you have sleep issues and now are feeling more of the symptoms of depression or anxiety, a link could definitely be present. The best way to sort this out is to see a counsellor or therapist.
Screen time – and other light – and the effect on sleep (we know, we know… but please don’t skip this part!)
Okay, we promised you that we had to bring this one up. People of all ages in today’s society are reliant on technology, dependent on our devices, and otherwise in constant view of some kind of screen or another (see our article on Social Media Addiction). Many of us are on our phones – or within arms’ reach of one – seemingly every waking minute.
So please understand that the advice we pass along about screen time and limiting light spectrum closer to bedtime isn’t another one of those ‘kids these days!’ complaints by adults. On the contrary. We’re all guilty of this. All of us.
Why does technology and light affect our sleep?
We talked earlier about circadian rhythm. Light plays perhaps the biggest role in circadian sleep patterns. And screens emit a level and spectrum of light that interferes with our ability to get to sleep on time and continue to sleep well throughout the night.
Technology also stimulates our brains – drains our brains, you could say. That level of overstimulation close to bedtime makes it more difficult to get to sleep. And that drain affects our energy levels overall.
It’s way better for us to unwind before bedtime. Read a book. Meditate. Take a hot shower. Turn out the lights and gather your thoughts while you lie in bed. Again, this advice goes for all of us.
What would it mean if we could put down our phones half an hour before going to bed?
Well, let’s look at what we’d be missing out on first. That’s half an hour less each day on the phone: half an hour less of texting friends, of watching videos, of catching up on the latest sports or entertainment, etc. We’re not going to hide this fact from you or sugar-coat it.
What we’d like to do instead is suggest a different way to look at this
We’ll call this approach “Less Is More.”
- If you’re sleeping eight hours, that means that you’re awake for 16 hours every day
- Taking half an hour out of those 16 hours means you’re losing 3% of your current daily activity
- That 3% isn’t nothing, we admit; you might miss out on a text or headline, though in all likelihood, it will be waiting for you when you wake up the next morning at no cost to you (just benefits!)
- In exchange for a 3% sacrifice, however, you’ll receive so many benefits in return!
- You’ll sleep better, meaning you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed, and experience more energy, focus, concentration and productivity throughout the day
- And you’ll experience more long-term value like better health (physical and mental), higher levels of satisfaction and happiness, and less chances of illness
- Over time you’ll feel better, look better, experience a better life and be able to be the best you!
- While it’s not terribly scientific to attach a numeric value to the above benefits, wouldn’t you agree that it represents a significant improvement in your life? Maybe 2x or 3x better than how you’re feeling now?
- Isn’t that worth the 3% sacrifice?!!
Okay, we’re just going to leave this one right here. Hope it works for you!
For those who are experiencing sleep issues due to mental or emotional health issues, we’re here to help
If your sleep is suffering, and you haven’t been able to resolve these issues on your own, we here at Ottawa Youth Counselling can help. Our counsellors are trained experts and have deep knowledge when it comes to the interaction between the physical, physiological, mental and emotional issues that combine to have a tremendous impact on sleep. Contact us today to get started on a plan towards better sleep.