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Students + Sleep = Success

It is no secret that teens are not getting enough sleep these days. With endless screen time, mounds of homework and crammed schedules, teens are sacrificing sleep just to keep up. And it is not that they are simply losing a few minutes of necessary winks. According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens should average 9.25 hours of sleep each night, or a minimum of 8.5 hours. But the reality is that more than 85 percent do not get the minimum hours. 

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Sleep is not just something our bodies like to get; it is one of the most basic needs. A lack of sleep can lead to several short and long-term negative consequences. Students who are sleep-deprived often lack focus, are more apt to have aggressive behavior or just be generally cranky, are more likely to get sick, are more prone to skin problems and are more susceptible to extreme weight loss or gain.

So while most people are aware there are negative consequences to sleep deprivation, we still ignore our bodies’ calls for rest. But here are some steps that teens can take to get more rest each night:

• Create and stick to a regular sleep schedule. While getting the required 9.25 hours might seem unfeasible, it is not unreasonable to aim to jump into bed at 10:30. The key is not letting sleep be last on your priority list. If it is important to you to be asleep at a certain time, make that your priority. You do not need to be up until 2 a.m. each night to get your work done. In fact, I have seen incredibly successful students go to bed at a decent hour.

• Avoid technology late at night. There has been much chatter about the effects of blue light on brain activity and that it stimulates our senses. More importantly, teens are lying in bed texting, Facebooking, chatting or just browsing before going to sleep. The minutes often roll into hours. That combined with the cognitive impact of blue light means less sleep. That late-night browsing is usually unproductive and unnecessary, so cross it off the bedtime routine.

• Study at your desk and not in bed. Your bed should be your haven. Don’t let it be the place where you also study. You should study at your desk. Ideally, your desk is in another room so you can really focus.

• Create a study schedule that works for you to ward off procrastination. All-nighters and late night study sessions are not completely avoidable, but they should not be the norm. Plan to get work done ahead of time so you can limit last-minute study sessions. Create strict goals, such as planning to get essays done three days in advance. The more structured you are with your study habits, the more sleep you will get.

• Sleep at night is better, but naps are a close second. Often, I hear about students who are so exhausted after school that they come home and nap for an hour or two. While they feel refreshed after this nap, they also experience a burst of energy late at night. And hence the cycle continues. If you must nap, aim for a 20-minute power nap and make it a goal to go to bed on time that night.

• Don’t let the weekends throw you off. It can be tempting to stay up late Friday and Saturday and sleep until noon on the weekends. But this simply means that Monday morning is going to be all the more painful. While you don’t need to get up as early on weekends as you do during the week, try not to let your sleep schedule waver by more than 30 to 60 minutes. Your body needs regularity. It does not differentiate between Tuesday and Saturday.

Sleep will always be a necessity. Technology and crazy schedules have now become part of our lives. Rather than pitting our health against these new forces, we have to learn to cope and be disciplined. Teens especially need the extra hours as their brains and bodies are still developing.

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