Healthy Sleep Habits

Healthy Sleep Habits

Teens often hear about the importance of health habits when it comes to things like diet, exercise, and staying away from drugs, alcohol and cigarettes. But what about our sleep habits? It seems like the importance of a good night sleep does not get as much attention as it should. But the fact is that sleep is critical for our health and well-being. It’s actually just as important for our physical and mental health as diet and exercise. Sleep helps with the following:

  • Regulating mood
  • Improving and maintaining learning and memory functions
  • Learning new skills
  • Staying on task and being productive
  • Maintaining overall good health, including a healthy weight and healthy energy levels

So how much is enough sleep? Teens generally need 9 hours of sleep per night – something that can be tough to fit in when balancing homework, socializing, extra-curricular activities, family obligations and more. And the problem with sleep is that (contrary to popular belief) you can’t really make up for sleep that was lost during the week on the weekends. The reason that it’s difficult to make up for lost sleep is because each time you don’t get enough sleep you add to what is sometimes referred to as your “sleep debt.” This is the accumulated sleep that is lost due to poor sleep habits, sickness, and waking up due to environmental factors or other causes. The more sleep debt you have, the sleepier and less alert you will feel.

Another concern with not getting enough sleep is the risk of injury that can be associated with getting an insufficient amount of sleep. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have identified adolescents and young adults (ages 12-25) as a population at high risk for problem sleepiness and the consequences that can go with it. What are the possible consequences? Generally they include injuries and deaths related to lapses in attention and delayed response times at critical moments, such as while driving. For example, fatigue is a principle cause in at least 100,000 police-reported traffic crashes each year. And young drivers 25 and under are involved in more than ½ of fall-asleep crashes.

So how you can keep a healthy sleep routine? Smart sleep habits include:

  • Keeping a consistent bedtime and wake time.
  • Avoiding nicotine and alcohol.
  • Generally avoiding caffeine, but definitely avoiding it close to bedtime.
  • Exercising regularly (but no major workouts within three hours of your bedtime)
  • Coming up with a winding-down routine before bed.
  • Creating a sleep environment that is dark, quiet and comfortable.
  • Turning off your phone at night so you will not be woken up by incoming calls and texts.  

If you are having trouble sleeping, don’t rely on the following:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Common OTC meds may have certain ingredients you don’t need (such as pain relievers) and side-effects. So it is important to talk to your doctor if you are continually having trouble sleeping so you can figure out the cause and the best way to deal with it.
  • Alcohol. There are lots of reasons for teens to stay away from alcohol. And here is another one: Alcohol might calm some people down and speed up the onset of sleep, but it actually increases the number of times you wake up during the night, meaning you will not get the restful sleep you need.
  • Exercising at night. Exercise can be helpful for good sleep, but generally not when it is done close to bedtime. Strenuous exercise up to three hours before bedtime can have an alerting effect and can raise your body temperature, which can interfere with sleep. However, exercising in the morning or afternoon can actually help promote good sleep habits.
  • Watching tv or using the computer close to bedtime. Doing work, watching tv, and using the computer close to bedtime (and especially in the bedroom) can definitely get in the way of a good night sleep.

If you are having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or are often feeling fatigued, talk with your doctor about it. Your doctor could assess your sleep habits to see if any changes are warranted. Your doctor could also check to see if any medical or emotional issues are contributing to your sleep issues and come up with a treatment plan based on those contributing factors.

If you don't have a doctor and live in northern New Jersey, you can call the Adolescent/Young Adult Center for Health at 973-971-5199 for an appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist or contact your local teen health center. You can also contact your insurance company for a list of in-network providers.