By Dr Vihan Sanyal
Teenage years are formative and sleep is an essential component of development. As mind and body begin a transformation into adulthood, both quality and quantity of sleep is important. One of the first things I ask a teenager who engages in a session with me is “How is your sleep?” It is my observation that most teenagers are not getting good quality of sleep. The pandemic has made matters worse with more and more teens living a sedentary lifestyle.
Multiple studies have shown that teenagers need between eight to nine hours of sleep every night to function at their optimum level. Unfortunately, most teenagers fall short of meeting the hours of sleep they require. Many teenagers feel that it’s okay not to get enough sleep. That they can “function” with less sleep. Some believe that they can go through days of less sleep and then catch up on lost sleep by sleeping more at other times. This is a recipe for disaster!
What are some of the benefits of good sleep?
*Strengthens your immune system
*Strengthens your heart
*Prevents weight gain
*Improves your mood and emotional health
*Helps increase stamina and endurance
*Helps improve cognitive function including memory
*Helps boost energy levels and increase productivity
*Helps in managing chronic stress
What are some of the negative effects of chronic sleep deprivation?
Ongoing sleep deprivation can impact teenagers in the following way:
*Dark circles under the eyes and a tired look
*Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other gastric disturbances
*Increase or decrease in eating habits
*Impacts focus and concentration
*Increases daydreaming and inattention
*Impacts decision making
*Increases procrastination and lack of interest/enthusiasm
*Increases pre-existing mental health conditions like anxiety depression, ADHD
*Increases risk-taking behaviour
*Negative effect on different vital organs
*Can cause a range of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes
*Poor grades and academic performance
Studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation affects the brain’s ability to absorb and learn new information. It has also been established that lack of sleep can cause mental illnesses. Sleep deprivation has been closely associated with psychiatric disorders like ADHD (Earlier known as ADD), Anxiety Spectrum disorders, Depression, psychosis and mood disorders.
A study conducted by University of Texas has found that teenagers were four times more likely to be depressed if they were sleep deprived than their counterparts. Severe depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. Sleep deprivation results in risky behaviours like substance use which can then lead to drug induced Insomnia. Drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine cause sleep deprivation.
Another study published in 2020 revealed that teenagers who slept poorly at the age of 15 who did not have anxiety or depression at that time were more likely to develop anxiety or depression by the time they would be 17, 21 and 24 years old.
Dos and Don’ts For Teenagers
Here are a few things teenagers can do to help regulate their sleeping patterns and ensure they achieve restful sleep:
*Take a warm bath just before bedtime
*Practice simple breathing techniques before bedtime
*Listen to sounds of nature or instrumental music
*Keep your room as dark as possible at night
*Stay active during the day so that you are tired at night
*Follow a strict sleep routine for 21 days and hopefully it will then become a habit
*Stick to the same wake up time every day (including holidays)
*Don’t listen to sad songs
*Don’t listen to fast upbeat songs
*Don’t play video games
*Don’t exercise late at night
*Don’t drink coffee, energy drinks or soft drinks at night
*Don’t be on mobile phones, laptops or watch TV at bedtime
*Don’t have intellectually stimulating conversations with friends late at night
*Should ensure 8-9 hours of sleep at night. Not during the day.
*Strictly no sleeping during day time
*Make sure that you are not oversleeping. Sleeping regularly for more than 9 hours a night can result in many health complications
Avoid late nights
After a good night’s sleep a person is likely to feel alert, refreshed and rejuvenated. They should feel like they are ready for a new day. If someone has just woken up from deep sleep then they are likely to feel a little groggy, however, this groggy feeling should go away within a few minutes and they should start to feel fully rested.
Counselling: If teenagers are overthinking and if they are troubled with something emotional, then a few sessions of talk therapy can be hugely beneficial. Counselling offers a person a safe space to vent out their concerns and pick up coping strategies to help them get back on track. In a majority of cases counselling has proven to be extremely beneficial in helping teenagers improve their overall mental health and sleep disorders. A skilled counsellor can help teenagers not only address their sleep issues, but also unveil deeper causes for sleep deprivation. If a teenager is facing issues with sleep then they should seek help from a counsellor or a psychotherapist. This should be the first step towards seeking professional help and should be done without delay.
Hypnotherapy: Hypnotherapy works on the subconscious part of the mind and it can help teenagers experience deep levels of relaxation. It is a wonderful tool to remove symptoms of insomnia and promotes sound sleep. There are no reported side effects of hypnotherapy and it is reasonably safe if used under supervision of a trained professional.
Medication: There are short term and long-term treatments available to help address acute and chronic sleep conditions. It is best to see a psychiatrist who can prescribe the correct medication for the person concerned. A psychiatrist is trained in psychiatric medicines which are used often in the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders. Please note that not all medicines are habit forming and if used correctly can help address the issues of sleep deprivation fairly quickly. Please don’t hesitate to consult a specialist if required.
(The writer is a psychotherapist.)