“Getting eight to nine hours of sleep each night lowers the risk of underage drinking, smoking and serious drug use in kids and adolescence.” —Adam Winsler, Ph.D., Professor, Applied Developmental Psychology, George Mason University.
For those with seemingly endless to-do lists, taking a nap or sleeping late might seem like a luxury they can’t afford. Foregoing sleep in lieu of checking email, doing laundry or studying for an exam, could decrease the quality of those tasks.
“Two well-known effects of inadequate sleep are cognitive processing problems including attention, storing information and retrieving information from memory,” said Dr. Linda Gulyn, professor of psychology at Marymount University. “That's why someone who is consistently sleepy has difficulty in classes, getting work done, and taking tests. This is problematic especially for high school and college students.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that school-aged children get nine to 12 hours of sleep each night, teenagers get eight to 10 hours, adults 18-65 get seven to eight and adults 65 and older get seven to eight hours. The CDC also reports that one in three people don’t get enough sleep.
“This country is very achievement-oriented. It’s go, go, go and we think that sleeping is for wimps,” said Adam Winsler, Ph.D. professor of applied developmental psychology at George Mason University and lead author of an article published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence called “Sleepless in Fairfax …”
But in addition to a decrease in productivity, a lack of adequate sleep can have a negative impact on one’s overall wellbeing. Winsler’s study looked at 39,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders in Fairfax County. The researchers recorded the average number of hour of sleep the teens get each night and found that sleep deprivation can have a profound impact on mental health and certain behaviors. “We found that getting eight to nine hours of sleep each night lowers the risk of underage drinking, smoking and serious drug use in kids and adolescence. Each hour more of sleep a night adolescents get is associated with less depression, suicide, and drug use for teens,” said Winsler. “But generally, the reality is that most kids and teens are considered deprived. A lack of sleep hurts them emotionally and can make them feel depressed and grumpy. Younger children who don’t get adequate sleep can experience problems with self-control and behavior regulation.”
“When we are tired, we are more likely to be agitated and this affects social relationships. [Someone who’s sleep deprived] might have a tough time completing tasks,” added Gulyn.
There are physical and mental health benefits to getting proper sleep, says Dr. Jerome Short, a clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at George Mason University who has also studied the effect of sleep patterns on overall health and wellness. “Sleep clears the brain of toxic proteins, repairs muscles, and restores the immune system. Adequate sleep is associated with less obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer,” he said. “In recent research with college students, I found that the combination of vigorous exercise and sleep satisfaction led to next day positive mood, he said. “The combination of moderate exercise and longer sleep led to reduced negative mood.”
"During sleep, the body releases hormones that stimulate growth, increase muscle mass, and repair cells and tissues,” said Julia Dorsey, RN, School Public Health Nurse – Fairfax County Health Department. “Hormones also help boost the immune system to better fight infection. Chronic sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of obesity and type II diabetes, as well as heart disease, high blood pressure, and stroke."
Adequate sleep can be elusive in a social environment where social media and information on demand are prevalent. “It’s critical to reduce screen time before bed and not allow video games and computers and phones use late at night,” said Winsler. “Dimming the lights and doing calming activities also helps. One big issue is that teens sleep with their phones next to them and the phones vibrate and wake them up.”
“Daily exercise, reduced light, physical comfort, and a regular sleep routine of going to bed and getting up at the same time increase duration of, and satisfaction with, sleep,” added Dr. Jerome Short.
To improve the quality of one’s sleep, Gulyn advises that “if sleep problems are associated with excessive worry or depression, then it's important to seek professional advice.”
For those who are over the age of 65, a lack of proper sleep can also cause problems with cognitive function, says Winsler. “When you think about dementia and Alzheimer’s, sleep deprivation can make all of those things worse. Taking naps and getting a good night’s sleep are critical.”