Above: Image © PrettyVectors, iStockphoto

Students’ lives can be pretty hectic! Getting through the school day can be challenging and stressful. You probably have a long list of difficult assignments and demanding extracurricular activities. And you may stay up late trying to get everything done.

There are all kinds of reasons why students—including you!—might not get enough sleep. You might have too much homework or school might start too early in the morning. Or maybe you procrastinate, don’t plan your time very well, or have a health conditions that affects you sleep.

Whatever the reasons, research shows that two things are for sure. Getting enough sleep is important for good health. And chronic sleep deprivation—not getting enough sleep over a long period of time—leads to poorer health.

Did you know? Some pediatricians, doctors who specialize in caring for children, argue that schools should start later in the morning so students can get more sleep.

How much sleep do you need?

Adolescents between the ages of 10 to 19 should get nine hours of sleep per night. However, most teens don’t get this much—especially not on weekdays during the school year. Do you?

And did you know that chronic sleep deprivation can cause a number of problems? Adolescents who don’t get enough sleep are at higher risk for depression, anxiety, drug use, fatigue, weak academic performance, and poor memory. In other words, getting a good night’s rest is important for memory, learning, and health.

How sleep helps your brain

Scientists have begun studying what actually happens in your brain when you sleep. They’re discovering that sleep may help keep everything working properly in the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord.

Did You know? In Canada, almost half of teens aged 14-18 are not getting enough sleep.

Your brain contains specialized cells called neurons. They are designed to carry messages using electrical signals and chemical reactions. When you sleep, neurons have a chance to rejuvenate and get repaired. This is something that cannot happen while you are awake.

For example, a study of mice found that their brains produce cells called oligodendrocyte precursor cells (OPCs) while they sleep. OPCs repair and refresh a coating around nerve cells called the myelin sheath. Damage to the myelin sheath can contribute to neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis.

Another group of studies from the University of Rochester showed that toxins in your brain that build up when you’re awake get removed while you sleep. One such toxin is beta-amyloid, a precursor to Alzheimer’s disease.

More studies will be necessary to confirm these results. However, the research suggests that sleep is your body’s way to rejuvenate, remove toxic chemicals, and undergo repair.

Did You know? There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain.

These different studies suggest that loss of sleep would mean losing some of the benefits from these processes. The result could be poorer health and the onset of diseases like multiple sclerosis and dementia.

So, to keep a long story short, staying up late may not be so great after all. Put those books away! You may have a better chance of getting an A in physics class if you simply go to bed earlier.

Learn More!

About sleep and teen health:

Sleep and children: the impact of lack of sleep on daily life (2015)
Douglas Mental Health University Institute

Doctors say school should start later so kids can sleep longer (2014)
L. Zilke, Global News

About sleep and the teen brain:

What happens in the brain during sleep? (2015)
J. Peever, B. J. Murray, Scientific American

Why a good night’s sleep means a cleaner brain (2014)
S. Rahman, CurioCity

About neuroscience:

Neuroscience for Kids (2016)
E. Chudler, University of Washington

Myelin and the central nervous system (2014)
Emedicine Health

Connectomics: Mapping the connections of the nervous system (2013)
M. Po, CurioCity by Let’s Talk Science

Sleep produces cell that grow and repair nerve cell insulation (2013)
School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison

What are the parts of the nervous system? (2013)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

About scientific studies on sleep and adolescents:

The impact of sleep on adolescent depressed mood, alertness and academic performance (2013)
M. A. Short, M. Gradisar, L. C. Lack & H. R. Wright, Journal of Adolescence 36
Link to summary. Registration or subscription required to view full text.

When worlds collide - adolescent need for sleep versus societal demands (1999)
M. A. Carskadon, Phi Delta Kappan 8

Sleep schedules and daytime functioning in adolescents (1998)
A. R Wolfson, M.A. Carskadon, Child Development 69

Sleep need in adolescents: a longitudinal approach (1988)
I. Strauch & B. Meier, Sleep 11
Link to summary. Registration or subscription required to view full text.

Pubertal changes in daytime sleepiness (1980)
M.A. Carskadon, K. Harvey, P. Duke, T. F. Anders, I. F. Litt & W. C. Dement, Sleep 2
Link to summary. Registration or subscription required to view full text.

The meaning of good sleep: a longitudinal study of polysomnography and subjective sleep quality (1994)
T. Akerstedt, K. Hume, D. Minors & J. Waterhouse, Journal of Sleep Research 3

Justin Brathwaite

I have always had a passion for medicine and science ever since I was in elementary school. I received my B.A. in chemistry from Columbia University in 2014. After graduation, I spent a year working in a laboratory in the department of neurology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City. I investigated whether inflammation could serve as a potential in-vivo model for improved detection of mild traumatic brain injury. I hope to continue my studies and pursue a career in medicine. I enjoy reading, swimming, traveling, and science writing.  


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