School’s out! A fortnight of festive freedom! Think of all the things you will DO – the people you could see, the places you could go, the ambitious but satisfying projects you could undertake, the hours you could spend doing something wholesome and outdoorsy, like carol singing or tobogganing or skating on a frozen lake (because obviously your imaginary Christmas holiday takes place in a movie adaptation of a Dickens novel).
You could do all those things, but obviously you won’t. Because you’ll be asleep.
Mmmm, sleep. The greatest gift of all.’Tis the season for a lie-in, fa la la la la, la la zz zzzzzz. After you’ve spent the whole year getting up at basically the crack of dawn to achieve all that stuff you’ve achieved, and staying up late to keep up your social media presence in case people start to worry you’ve been kidnapped, all you really want for Christmas is a big, giant nap.
And here’s the good news: you deserve one. You need one, in fact. No matter how much your parents mutter about ‘lazy teenagers’, tut when you emerge at lunchtime in your pyjamas or nag you to get up and go for a 10-mile Boxing Day walk with them before handwriting 20 thank-you letters to your relatives. The truth is that in your teen years, a good night’s sleep becomes more important than ever before… but, and here’s the unfair bit, it’s also harder to actually get.
How many Zs are we talking?
Studies have suggested that between the ages of 10 and 20, we should be clocking up at least nine hours’ sleep a night. That’s an hour or two more than your parents need, and six hours more than Margaret Thatcher supposedly used to get (which explains some things). But even more interestingly, the pattern of sleep gets thrown off during adolescence – typically meaning that teen brains want to go to sleep later, but also sleep for longer in the morning. Sound familiar? Turns out it isn’t your habit of falling into a YouTube rabbit hole at midnight that’s to blame; it’s your BRAIN. And your habit of falling into a YouTube rabbit hole at midnight. A bit.
Mm sure, but why?
Science is helpfully vague on that question. “There must be an evolutionary reason why this happens,” says Neil Stanley, a sleep researcher at the University of East Anglia, who thinks that the culprit could be – what else? – hormones. “If sleep is important for memory and learning, and dealing with emotions, and repair and recuperation, then teenage years have an awful lot of that,” he told the BBC.
During puberty your circadian rhythms (the ones that control sleeping and waking) are ‘reset’, a bit like turning a phone off and on again. Except that your phone usually wakes up faster and more alert, whereas you end up wanting to crawl into a burrow and hibernate until adulthood.
So how do I catch more than 40 winks?
You probably know plenty of the tricks – hot drinks before bed, a relaxing bath, switching off your devices early and banishing them from your bedroom (here’s our handy video) – but do you actually do them?
Thought not. Well, that’s a good place to start. Especially the devices one, which we KNOW is about as appealing as sleeping without oxygen in the room…. but all that scrolling can send your mind into overdrive when it should be winding down. Plus a recent study found that the blue light your phone gives off can mess up your natural sleep cycle, by suppressing the sleepy hormone melatonin and ‘fooling’ the brain into thinking it is daytime. Old-style alarm clocks might be due a revival, guys.
There are also bigger plans afoot in society to help teens get the start they really need, including recent recommendations that high schools should start and finish later, so everyone can have a good lie-in without feeling guilty about it. Some early research has suggested that later starts not only help you get more sleep, but also help reduce feelings of depression and irritability. So an extra hour’s kip might be good for more than just staying awake during Monday morning double maths.
Yawn. Are you finished yet?
Almost. While schools catch up and (hopefully) change their timetables, you can look after yourself by making sure you get as much sleep as you can, when you can. And if anyone tries to call you lazy, show them this article.
Although you really should write your thank-you letters. Sorry.
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Image: Amber Griffin