Why New Research Makes Sleep a Necessity

For years, we’ve been hearing how important sleep is for learning, performance, mood, and general health. Still, the busy lives (and devices) of teens and adults lead many of us to stay up later, putting off sleep until the weekend, if we’re lucky. Although teens are supposed to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep, most don’t come close to that. About a quarter of teens surveyed report falling asleep in class. Yet reading the latest research on sleep makes clear poor sleep habits are extremely detrimental—both in the short-term and, even more concerning, in the future.

It turns out that during sleep, the brain is not in sleep mode. Just the opposite, in fact. While we’re resting, our brains are accomplishing vital tasks that keep our entire bodies running smoothly and staying healthy while we’re awake. If we deprive ourselves of sleep, our brains accumulate waste that accelerates aging, decreases our functioning, and facilitates the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. What researchers discovered is that mice who were deprived of sleep had brains that looked far older than they really were. The brain desperately needs the time when we sleep to accomplish tasks vital to our physical and mental well-being.

Getting enough sleep should be a priority for all of us, especially teens and tweens whose brains are still developing. Along with making sure kids eat healthfully, exercise, get regular medical checkups, and avoid dangers, designating enough hours for sleep every day—weeknights as well as weekends—should be a priority. It’s important to teach good sleep habits, such as winding down with mentally demanding work at least an hour before bedtime; avoiding the lights of television, computer screens, and other devices; and doing relaxing activities (e.g., pleasure reading, listening to soothing music, taking a bath, etc.) to prepare for a good night’s rest.

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