Red Bull, ROCKSTAR, 24-hour coffee shops—these products and amenities help us stay awake longer and delay sleep. But, they are contributing to the rising problem of sleep deprivation amongst teens. The importance of sleep is often overlooked, especially in our fast-paced society. But, a good night’s sleep does, in fact, have many proven health benefits!

Sleep is more complex than you may think. There are five stages of sleep per cycle: the first four are progressively deeper states of sleep, and the fifth is Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep is when the majority of dreaming occurs. Going through all five stages takes about 100 minutes, and then the cycle repeats itself.

Did You Know?
The average adult requires seven to eight hours of sleep per night. However, teenagers require between eight-and-a-half and ten hours.

Have you ever wondered what makes you fall asleep in the first place? A hormone called melatonin is responsible for our sleep-wake cycles. Melatonin is released from the pineal gland (in our brain) in response to darkness and causes us to feel that sleepy feeling. Light actually slows the production of melatonin, causing us to wake up in the morning.

Did You Know?
Melatonin production decreases with age, which may be why many elderly people suffer from insomnia.

We know that diet and exercise are both important for weight control, but did you know that getting enough sleep is just as important? This is thought to be due to fluctuations in the hormones leptin and ghrelin, both of which control your appetite. Leptin suppresses your appetite, while ghrelin stimulates it. Ideally, you want to keep these two in balance, but sleep deprivation reduces leptin production and increases ghrelin production. So the less sleep you get, the hungrier you feel. That probably explains the late night snacking many of us are guilty of.

Did You Know?
A ten-minute nap has been shown to be beneficial in restoring alertness in the middle of a long day.

The length and quality of your sleep also affects your memory and concentration. Studies consistently show that sleep is necessary for the transformation of short-term memory into long-term memory; which means it is critical for learning. Furthermore, sleep deprivation causes a decrease in activity in the hippocampus (the memory centre in your brain). Interestingly, sleep is required before and after learning for complete memory formation. This may be why you find yourself blanking on a test the day after you pulled an all-nighter.

So, the next time you reach for a can of Red Bull, consider getting a good night’s sleep instead!

Learn more! – All things sleep! – Resources for better sleep

The Science Network – Waking up to sleep

Kate Williams

Kate Williams is currently working on her PhD in Neuroscience at McMaster University.  Her research focuses on how the brain changes during development and aging.  In her spare time she enjoys traveling, reading, running, and playing softball.

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