All about that zzz

Riddle of the day: What is free but you never get enough of it?

The answer is sleep.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the National Sleep Foundation, teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every night. Now ask yourself, how much are you actually getting?

if you sleep at 2am, you are likely to feel less rested compared to someone who slept at 11

Do you know that when you do not get enough sleep, you are more at risk for heart attacks, diabetes and high blood pressure? A Lack of sleep also impairs attention, alertness, reasoning and problem solving, leading to a higher chance of injuries and accidents, and a slower learning ability. This is unsurprising as sleep is critical to the normal functioning of the brain and body. When you sleep, your brain undergoes restructuring. Harmful toxins are being flushed out from the brain. The neural network is strengthened and short term memory is converted to long term memory.

For the slightly vainer, a lack of sleep does horrors to your look. Lack of sleep has been linked to an increase in appetite, hence possibly leading to obesity. Sleep loss also hinders human growth hormone production, which is essential for strengthening bones, repairing muscles and thickening your skin (literally). With insufficient sleep, your body produces more of the stress hormone cortisol. When present in excess, cortisol breaks down skin collagen, which causes your skin to look dull and saggy.

Although quantity of sleep matters, the quality matters too.

In 2014, TIME magazine featured a special article about sleeping earlier. In the article, sleep expert Dr Matt Walker stated that the shift from non REM sleep to REM sleep happens at a certain time of the night, regardless of when you sleep. And non-REM sleep, which is deeper and more restorative, tends to occur more in the earlier part of the night. This means that if you sleep at 2am, you are likely to feel less rested compared to someone who slept at 11. Unless you can change your circadian rhythm to adjust your sleeping pattern, if not, you should aim for an earlier bedtime to reap the most benefits from sleep. If you really have a lot of homework to do, my advice is to sleep earlier and wake up earlier to do your homework. You will be more productive that way.

So how else can you get higher quality sleep?

Tip 1: Refrain from doing activities that can cause your brain to become active one hour before you sleep.

This includes checking Instagram and doing homework which might get your brain all worked up. However, if your homework causes you to fall asleep, feel free to do your homework on your bed. What you want is to induce your brain into a relaxed mode sometime before your bedtime so that it is easier for you to fall asleep and remain asleep.

Tip 2: Exercise in the morning and afternoon.

Exercises increase blood flow and can improve your sleep.  Just be careful not to do any vigorous activity a few hours before you sleep. That will have the opposite effect of making you feel energised and unable to fall asleep.

Tip 3: create your own cosy corner.

Your bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet. If your family members are being a nuisance and preventing you from going to sleep, wear an eye mask or a pair of ear plugs and block them out from your dreamland. Sleep on a comfortable bed and pillow. It is okay to be a Goldilocks when you spend nearly a third of your life on your bed.

Tip 4: Don’t drink coffee in the evening.

The stimulating effects of caffeine take up to 10 hours to wear off. That means if you want to sleep by 10, you should finish your coffee quota by noon.

After reading this, you might complain about how the government is responsible for our sleep deficit, by making us go to school at ungodly hours. But anyway, I don’t foresee school hours being shifted back anytime soon. That is why there is a need to mindfully sleep early and well so that you do not suffer the consequences of a lack of sleep. Can you imagine looking and feeling like you are 60 when you are only 16? What a nightmare!

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