Sleep & Sleeping Disorders
Sleeping is one of the most important functions in life. Teens spend one-third of their day sleeping – meaning that by the age of 15, you will have spent about five years of your life asleep. That seems like a lot, but it is not wasted time. In fact, sleep is vital for a healthy body and mind.
What is sleep?
People used to think of sleep as a time during which nothing happened. Studies show, however, that the brain and body are very active while we sleep.
There are two kinds of sleep: non-rapid eye movement eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. These two states affect the body and mind in different ways.
If we are lucky, we fall asleep within 10 to 20 minutes of going to bed. Our bodies begin a cycle of sleep. The first four stages are NREM. Stages one and two are light sleep where we can be awakened easily and contractions of our muscles can be seen. In stages three and four our brain waves slow and we enter into deep sleep – it is very difficult to wake someone up in this stage. There is no eye movement or muscle activity at this point.
REM Sleep & Dreaming
The fifth stage of sleep occurs normally after about 90 minutes, and is characterized by dreaming and rapid eye movement. No other muscles move during this time. If you have the chance to watch a friend or family member sleep, check to see if their eyes are moving back and forth, like they are watching a movie underneath closed eyelids. If so, they are likely in the middle of a dream.
The cycles of NREM and REM sleep repeat throughout the night. The first period of dreaming only lasts five minutes. REM periods are longer with each subsequent cycle. We typically spend more than two hours each night dreaming.
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How much sleep do I need and why?
Most teenagers need between nine and nine-and-a-half hours of sleep each night. Yet surveys show that most teenagers get only six to seven hours. Twenty percent of high schoolers say that they have fallen asleep in class.
If you don't get enough sleep, you may experience symptoms of sleep deprivation. These include:
- Falling asleep in class.
- Difficulty waking up in the morning.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Depression after prolonged sleep deprivation.
There are many other ways in which the right amount of sleep can keep you healthy. During sleep the body:
- Repairs cells: Sleep slows metabolism, heartbeat, and breathing rate which helps the body replenish after daily physical activity.
- Releases growth hormones in young adults: While you sleep, a hormone is released that aids the growth of bones, tissues, and new red blood cells.
- Strengthens your immune and nervous systems.
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While scientists don't understand everything about the importance of sleep, it clearly influences how you feel when you are awake. Those who have trouble sleeping because of a sleep disorder can have difficulty dealing with school, work, and relationships when awake.
Many adolescents actually have a common sleep disorder called a delayed sleep phase syndrome. The disorder, which is caused by changes in the body's internal clock associated with puberty, means it is normal to be a "night owl" at just about the time your family wants to go to sleep. It also means you want to sleep later in the morning. This pattern is hard to change, so teens end up sleep-deprived because school starts early, before the required nine to nine-and-a-half hours of sleep have occurred.
More serious sleep disorders include sleep apnea, in which someone temporarily stops breathing during sleep, or chronic insomnia, in which someone regularly has difficulty falling asleep. If you think you suffer from one of these disorders, please see your doctor.
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Getting a Good Night's Sleep
Everyone has problems sleeping at times, especially during adolescence. Below are some tips to increase your chances of sleeping better:
- Eliminate caffeine from your diet (or foods that have caffeine, such as chocolate).
- Set a regular sleep schedule and stick with it, even on weekends.
- Avoid exercise after dinner.
- Wear comfortable clothes or pajamas to bed.
- Make sure your room is not too hot or too cold.
- Avoid stimulating TV, music, or computer time before bed.
- Use meditation or relaxation techniques.
- Try the old standby: counting sheep – in other words, activities that are repetitive and lack stimulation.
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