Charlotte Kleid

Dr. Mathew Walker, Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, sleep scientist, and advocate is known for saying, “…the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.” This idea of sleep as being necessary for the body has been drilled into our brains since we were little kids. We have been told to “turn off the lights before 9:00 pm” and “get a good night’s rest” before a big test or sports game. We know it’s important, but why, and how do we implement a healthy sleep routine into our lives?

As high school students, it can be incredibly hard to maintain the “recommended” sleep schedule. We are often drowned in homework, and have late sports games, practices, rehearsals, club meetings, tests to study for, and a variety of other commitments. It can be easy to lose track of time by simply doing what we are supposed to do, and when given the choice to go to sleep and sacrifice an assignment or lose an hour of sleep to study, we often choose the latter. In hindsight, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal; one hour here, two there. We can sleep in on the weekends, or take a nap after school. But, Dr. Walker argues that the seemingly small portions of our rest that we give up each night can have insurmountable effects on our lives, the scariest part is, we may not even notice it. “The leading causes of disease and death in developed nations—diseases that are crippling health-care systems, such as heart disease, obesity, dementia, diabetes, and cancer—all have recognized causal links to a lack of sleep” Walker notes in his book  Why We Sleep. In fact, he also shares that after sleeping for 7 hours for ten days, the brain is as dysfunctional as it would be after going without sleep for twenty-four hours.

 So, I need sleep to be healthy, but why? First, Neurons in the brain are unable to communicate without sleep. Thus, when you are sleep deprived it is harder to focus, respond and retain information because you can’t form or maintain the pathways in your brain that are necessary for brain function. Additionally, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, ”sleep may promote the removal of waste products from brain cells—something that seems to occur less efficiently when the brain is awake.” Not only is your brain reliant on sleep, but, during deep sleep, the cardiovascular system resets, and during rem sleep your immune system improves. With enough sleep, you are less likely to obtain an infection like a cold. It is so vital to your health that in an INTERSTROK study, adults who slept on average less than five hours a night were three times more likely to suffer a stroke than those who slept for the minimum amount recommended for adults (seven hours). Sleep is necessary for your brain, heart, immune system, and soul.

The CDC recommends 8–10 hours of sleep per night for teenagers from 13–18 years old. Yet, many of us face the question: How do we sleep more effectively? Where do we find the time and how do we maximize the effects of sleep? First, it is crucial to establish a comfortable environment before you sleep. Studies show that a dark and cold atmosphere makes it easier to sleep, as light exposure interferes with the body’s regulated increase in melatonin. Experts also recommend not using technology before you go to sleep. Technology can cause anxiety and stress, and the blue light interferes with the need for darkness previously mentioned. It is also important to stay away from caffeine and exercise throughout the day to expend energy. But most essential, is to stick to a consistent schedule. Going to bed at vastly different times from night to night shocks the body’s circadian rhythm, the internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, and repeats roughly every 24 hours. Your body has an internal clock and the more you train it, the easier it will be for you to get tired at the right times and get a good night of rest.

Ultimately, sleep is vital for your mind. Your mental and physical health relies on consistent and full rest.