“The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life span.” This blunt quote comes from Matthew Walker, a professor in Neuroscience and Psychology who has conducted over 100 studies focused on the impact of sleep on human health. Scary, right?...

Sleep is the cheapest and easiest way to improve your overall health, physical and mental. It has been referred to as the most readily available, legal, performance enhancing drug. If the benefits were sold in a pill form it would be revolutionary, yet the majority of us still seem to neglect it.

The theme of today's blog is going to be centered around the importance of sleep in adolescence, however, most of the information and recommendations can also be applied to those in adulthood.

Most people I speak with think that sleep is important, however, the majority take a ‘near enough is good enough’ approach. Their planned 8 hours quickly turns into 7 hours because they might be scrolling through their phone, working on a laptop or catching up on a TV show. Then, because they have been behind a screen with bright blue light, when they finally decide to head off to sleep their body struggles to produce Melatonin, the hormone that your body produces in response to darkness, to signal that it is time to sleep. This then means that our sleep quality may be impacted. Poor sleep quality and quantity over a period of time can have a serious, and frankly worrying impact on our physical and mental health.

This sort of routine, as mentioned above, is becoming all too common in adolescence, maybe just replace watching TV with playing video games.

Research conducted by VicHealth in 2018 found that the average teenager got between 6.5 and 7.5 hours of sleep per night. Sleep guidelines set out by the Australian Department of Health recommend that adolescence get between 8-10 hours of sleep per night. Sleep in growing adolescence is vital for a myriad of reasons.

What impact will getting less sleep have? Let’s have a look at some of the ways under sleeping can impact physical and mental health.

The impact of under sleeping on physical health:

● Increased risk of being overweight and obese

● Increased reaction time, meaning you’re slower to react to things

● Faster time to physical exhaustion by 10-30%

● Sleep deprivation increases your likelihood of infection

● Decreased aerobic performance

● More likely to overuse caffeine and stimulants

● May impact brain development

● Reduction in power and strength

● Increased likelihood on making irrational decisions

Significant increase injury risk: Athletes who sleep <8 hour have a 1.7 times greater risk of being injured when compared to those who sleep >8 hours

The impact of under sleeping on mental health:

● Poorer attention and focus

● More likely to show symptoms of anxiety and depression

● More likely to see themselves as “unhappy”

● Decrease in problem solving skills

● Increased incidence of suicidal thoughts

● May impact memory formation and retention

● Decrease academic performance

These are a few of many detrimental effects that not getting enough sleep can have on your physical and mental health. Knowing that this is the case, hopefully you now want to put a greater emphasis on getting enough quality sleep. How to optimise your sleep

  1. Stick to a sleep schedule, including the weekend, as much as you can. “Catching up” on sleep is not recommended.

  2. Avoid blue light from devices in the lead up to bedtime

  3. Maintain a solid exercise regime

  4. Take some time to unwind before bed

  5. Sleep in a cool, dark room with no distractions

  6. Get some sunlight exposure throughout the day to promote a natural circadian rhythm

As you can see, sleep should not be something that we have a ‘near enough is good enough’ approach to. It can have a serious, long term impact on our physical and mental health. If we can build good sleep habits in our youth and adolescents, we should be able to reap the rewards for a long time to come.

Some cool extras:

- Book to read: Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

- Check out this Ted Talk for more

Aiden George - Strength & Conditioning Coach & Head of Youth Athlete Development at StudioForty6

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