How much sleep did you get last night? Chances are, not enough.

Why does this matter? Sleep supports the brain processes that are critical to learning, memory and emotion regulations. At night, the brain reviews and consolidates information that’s acquired during the day, making that information easier to later retrieve.

In my work over the years as an educator and mental health therapist, I have witness the impact being sleep deprived has on teenagers. 75 percent of teens that step foot in my counseling office are sleep deprived. The symptoms that show up due to the lack of sleep are sadness, irritability, anger, hopelessness, withdrawal from friends and family, and difficulty completing academic task that once were easy.

What I’ve witnessed is backed up by research. A recent article in the Huffington Post synthesized a number of studies that include these five findings:

  1. Teens that sleep only an average of six hours per night are three times more likely to suffer depression than those who receive eight to nine
  2. Sleep deprivation and depression go hand in hand among teenagers.
  3. Sleep deprivation makes teens more emotional and perform worse on cognitive tasks and testing.
  4. Sleep deprivation increases the risk of drug use and dependence and drug use in turn can fuel sleep troubles.
  5. Losing sleep can also have a long term negative effect on a teen’s physical health, with poor sleep quality being linked to diabetes and obesity risk for teens.

Many school districts around the country have started to pay attention to the recent research around sleep deprivation and how it negatively effects high school students’ performance academically and their psychological well-being. Numerous districts have pushed back the start times of high schools to promote the importance of sleep. The county that I work and reside in, for example, this year changed the starting time for high schools to be an hour later.

This is a big victory for helping teenagers get the sleep that they need, but there is more than can be done, specifically by parents and the teenagers themselves.

Here are six suggestions:

  1. Educate teens on sleep and the importance it has on their well-being.
  2. Create a sleep schedule and stick to it.
  3. Try not to consume foods or drinks late in your day that produces energy, for example, coffee, or doughnuts.
  4. Turn off all electronics 30 mins before going to bed.
  5. Reduce the amount of light exposure at least half hour before going to bed.
  6. Make the bedroom a place for sleep, not for other activities that can be distracting and keep one up late.

Parents should also really examine how their teen is sleeping before sending them straight to a psychiatrist asking for meds to help cure the symptoms. The medicine doesn’t get to the root cause. Let’s teach our teens the importance and benefits of sleep so they can feel empower that they can control their emotional and academic success.


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