The 21st century continues to yield almost unimaginable strides forward in the realms of productivity and technological advancement, but rapid change comes with a price for most working people: exhaustion. Yawns grace the faces of passersby in all sorts of everyday places. In most cafes and offices, and on most school campuses, sleep deprivation weighs on the eyelids of even the most driven individuals. It’s a curious paradox: How can we expect to maintain our productivity if we can’t find the time to sleep?
At Green Ivy, we advocate healthy sleep as a vehicle for success. We emphasize to our students, predominantly teens and tweens, that regular and lengthy sleep is vital to the healthy development of the pre-adult brain. Quality sleep bolsters learning, reduces stress, and enhances athletic performance, in addition to providing innumerable long-term benefits, such as limiting the threat of serious diseases.
It’s all well and good to outline the benefits of healthy sleep, but the question remains: What exactly can students do to improve their sleep?
The key is consistency. By making your sleep habits regular and routine, you strengthen your brain’s ability to distinguish sleep mode from waking mode. For example, try to get out of bed at the same time every morning, and commit to a predictable lights-out hour every night. These habits will help you establish healthy circadian rhythms, which are the brain’s biological processes that control whether you’re awake or unconscious.
Likewise, practicing a consistent nightly routine before bed helps signal to your brain that it’s time to transition toward sleep. If you regularly read, shower, and then brush your teeth every night before bed, for example, it will become effortless to fall asleep and arise in the morning.
Be wary of excessive light. Ideally, keep your room cozy and dark. Move TV setups and similar devices to other rooms, if possible. Think about it: Our brains are evolutionarily wired to associate sunlight with wakefulness and darkness with drowsiness. Our circadian rhythms depend on a straightforward relationship between light and dark to separate sleepy time from active time. Therefore, lean toward dim lighting in your bedroom, and stay away from screens before bed! Blue light, the high-energy wavelength of light emitted from your smartphone, can have devastating effects on your circadian rhythms if you use tech too close to bedtime. To increase the benefits of sleep, strive to keep the hour before bedtime free of screens.
You can take simple steps during the daytime, too, to set the foundation for healthy sleep. Physical activity throughout the morning or afternoon primes the mind for restful sleep, and numerous studies have demonstrated that daily exercise allows for longer and deeper sleep during the nighttime.
Naps can help, too, but only when they’re done right. Research continues to show that snoozes of 30 minutes or less can enhance alertness and performance throughout the day, but that naps lasting longer than 30 minutes tend to impair natural sleep cycles and may exacerbate tiredness. Keep your naps short and sweet, and then go about your business. We realize that this is easier said than done: If you’re prone to lapsing into deep, hours-long daytime naps, it’s probably a good idea to avoid naps altogether and focus on maintaining responsible nighttime sleep practices.
In the age of blue light, social media, and growing productivity demands, it can be challenging for teens to get the roughly 9–10 hours of sleep they need per night to thrive. Fortunately, by following the simple, consistency-based habits outlined above, you can quickly become the most rested and stress-free version of your daily self.