Sleep: Not For the Weak

james francoWith a packed schedule of classes and extracurriculars, and exams around the corner, it’s no wonder the average teen is getting only six to seven hours of sleep per night. However, the National Sleep Foundation recommends that young adults get nine and a half hours of sleep per night, with a minimum of eight and a half hours. Sleeping less than the recommended amount causes a sleep debt to accumulate, with consequences ranging from a stronger urge to nap in class (as demonstrated by James Franco to the right), to an increased risk of driving accidents.

Most of us have too much on our daily agendas to allow for adequate shut-eye, but here are several important reasons why getting the right amount of sleep is vital to your health:

Sleep restores your body. During sleep, your body repairs damaged tissues and recovers from fatigue. Growing teens need more sleep because certain hormones function at peak performance during deep sleep, stimulating growth and development. Not only does sleep deprivation hamper physical function, but it also takes a toll on mood, alertness, creativity and productivity.

Sleep lowers your risk of getting sick. Lack of sleep decreases the number of T-cells in the immune system by 30 to 40 percent. In addition, researchers have demonstrated that even a small loss in deep sleep increases susceptibility to illnesses like the cold or the flu.

Sleep helps you form memories and neural connections. The stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is important for cementing memories and what you’ve learned in the brain. According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep deprivation limits your ability to learn, concentrate and solve dilemmas. Also, studies suggest a one point drop in “functional IQ” for every hour of sleep lost. (This drop can easily be made up by catching up on shut-eye.)

Sleep reduces your appetite. Loss of sleep increases levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone, and simultaneously decreases levels of leptin, a hormone that signals fullness to the brain. According to scientists, there is also a link between sleep deprivation and higher BMI.

Sleep keeps you safer on the road. Falling asleep or drowsing behind the wheel is the cause behind more than 100,000 crashes per year.

Here are some practical tips you can follow to get more sleep:

- Establish a fixed sleeping schedule that allows as much sleep as possible. If you’re simply overwhelmed with work, at least make sure to make up for those hours by sleeping in during the weekends.

- Manage your time wisely by limiting distractions. Turn off your cell phone and distance yourself from the internet while working. Plan ahead and start studying a week or two prior to an exam to avoid having to pull an all-nighter.

- Don’t consume caffeinated drinks (coffee, soda, tea) or exercise heavily within four to six hours of bedtime. Avoid sugary or spicy foods at night, as they disrupt the sleep rhythm. If you’re hungry, eat a small carbohydrate-rich snack or drink a glass of milk.

- Create a pre-bedtime routine to ease into sleeping. For example, you could read a book, do some light studying, write in a journal or take a shower. Keep your room at a cool temperature and make sure it’s quiet and dark. Before bed, you could write down a to-do list for the next day to prevent worries from keeping you awake at night.

Sources: National Sleep Foundation, Washington Post

Photo of James Franco via TMZ.com