Sleep On It: Mental Health Relies on Healthy Sleep Cycles
Let’s face it. Life is crazy. There are so many options of activities for our children to participate in that it may be tough to choose just one. Sports, scouts, youth groups, band, etc. Even kids who are not flooded with activities find themselves still struggling to fit everything in the 24-day. Some teenagers today work not one, but two, jobs while attending school. Juggling schedules can definitely be a never-ending frustration. Though parents do this with good intent, the child may end up struggling in the long run as mealtimes and sleep take the back burner.
Sleep. Something so necessary, yet often under-prioritized. According to the National Heart, Blood, and Lung Institute, “Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.” Rightfully so. Sleep deficiency can not only cause short term problems (accident at home or work, driving on road, etc.), but also lead to chronic health problems. The truth of the matter is, sleep affects how one thinks, reacts, works, learns, and even socializes with others. Yet have you ever been at a place in society when you didn’t see a head nod, a long yawn, a dazed look. As Americans, many try to pack in as many activities as possible, thinking there will be time to “catch up” on sleep later.
Sleep deficiency alters activity in the brain. One who is low on sleep might have trouble making decisions, solving problems, controlling emotions and behavior, and coping with change. Sleep deficiency also has been linked to depression, suicide, and risk-taking behavior. Bottom line: The mental health of a person often declines when lack of sleep takes over moods
Surprisingly enough, a person who is well-rested also maintains healthier eating habits due to the fact that his or her ghrelin (feeling of hunger) and leptin (feeling of being full) hormones are balanced when an adequate sleep schedule is followed.
So now what? Can this be “fixed”? Suggestions include planning ahead and allowing yourself to have down-time and time to not only relax, but also to sleep. If one routinely loses sleep or chooses to sleep less than needed, the sleep loss adds up. The total sleep lost is called “sleep debt.” For example, if you lose 2 hours of sleep each night, you'll have a sleep debt of 14 hours after a week. Trying to “catch up” on sleep after the fact is not a recommended practice as the healthy sleep patterns necessary for the mind and body to rest and “heal” occur only over the longer hours of sleep versus the 15 minute to two hour “cat naps” one may try to implement to gain back energy to continue to function within a sleep-deprived schedule. A more effective solution would be to develop habits to maintain a more consistent, normalized sleep schedule, so a “banked” sleep account becomes a crutch of the past.
One of the best results in returning to a healthy sleep schedule is to not use electronics before bedtime as “screen time” up to two hours before bedtime affects the quality of sleep one has overnight, causing the sleep-offender to wake up multiple times throughout the night to “check email, social media, etc.,” resulting in an activated mind versus the quieted mind needed for quality sleep. Dr. Ranji Varghese while practicing at the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center at Hennepin County Medical Center, suggested the following practice is best for parents with teens: Limit the amount of bright light your children receive in the evening time, not just from their phones but from ambient light in the house, and no screen time or cellphones at least two hours before bed. This advice is helpful to all wishing to get a good night’s sleep.
Multiple sleep apps exist to help get the mind in the “quiet” place needed for a healthy sleep cycle. Mindfulness activities can also be utilized, using meditation to calm the mind in preparation of a restful slumber. One more effective strategy is to track one’s sleep patterns over time, determining a cause for loss of sleep and targeting strategies that may work to create a higher quality of sleep. Journaling these patterns and analyzing the data over time can help one focus in on what works best for a quality-level of sleep with adequate duration in given areas of a proper sleep cycle. Developing habits for a healthier sleep can help one better focus, be more creative, and even maintain a healthier physical and mental state of being in the waking hours.
This table reflects recent American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommendations that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has endorsed.
Age Recommended Amount of Sleep
Infants aged 4-12 months
12-16 hours a day (including naps)
Children aged 1-2 years
11-14 hours a day (including naps)
Children aged 3-5 years
10-13 hours a day (including naps)
Children aged 6-12 years
9-12 hours a day
Teens aged 13-18 years
8-10 hours a day
Adults aged 18 years or older
7–8 hours a day
NOTE: Too much sleep, on the other hand can also prove to be unhealthy as too much sleep on a regular basis can increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke and death according to several studies done over the years. Too much is defined as greater than nine hours.
National Blood, Heart and Lung Institute
* See pages 54-55 of above resource for Sleep Journal