Lying awake in the dark seems to be becoming a common pastime of youths in the United States. Currently in the U.S., a little less than half of the youths between ages 10-17 experience sleep deprivation in some form. In addition to being sleep deprived, children between ages 10-17 transfer from elementary school, to middle school, and then finally to high school within a relatively short time period. At such a stressful time, when suicide rates for this age group skyrocket, children are put in competitive environments and often told it will affect the rest of their lives.
Your circadian rhythm is your internal clock, and when these this is messed with there are significant reductions in immune system abilities. Your internal clocks also control when it’s time to eat and sleep. Sleep deprivation causes more sleep deprivation, while healthy sleeping schedules result in healthier sleeping schedules.
If sleep deprivation becomes extreme, it can become insomnia. Insomniacs have varying levels of intensity: some may sleep for maybe 6 hours a night (mild insomnia), but some people who suffer from insomnia may not sleep for days and then end up passing out once for 8-14 hours (serious, chronic insomnia).
While it’s impossible to completely remove stress from the lives of American adolescents, getting enough sleep is important. Sleep deprivation can cause lower grades, depression, and even higher risks of car crashes. There are a few things you can do to encourage sleep in yourself and those around you.
A Different Type of Light Pollution:
Artificial light can disturb your natural circadian rhythms and can cause melatonin imbalances. When deprived of melatonin, the chemical for sleep in the brain, the body registers and understands the duress that causes you to be tired, but does not possess enough of the chemicals it needs to go to sleep. The insomniac may turn on a lamp, or a computer, or just the lights of their room, convinced sleep is a million miles away, unaware that they are actually creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Turning off anything that is a major source of artificial light, and attempting to fall asleep in the dark, is far easier whether you have insomnia or not.
The Midnight Snack:
Breakfast is an important meal for your metabolism, but it is called “break-fast” for a reason. You are supposed to fast for 8 hours while you sleep and then eat again in the morning. The midnight snacker, while convinced they are better off not waiting till morning, are actually not giving their metabolism the rest it needs, and so they often feel like not eating in the morning, experience sluggishness, or even reduce the overall speed of their metabolism throughout the rest of the day. If you absolutely must snack at night, something light like a banana is recommended.
White Pillow Noise:
A small amount of white noise can actually help insomniacs relax in the dark. Lots of severe insomniacs can hallucinate or become paranoid as an effect of severe sleep deprivation, and even a person who get regular amounts of sleep can hear or see things in the pitch black silence. A little bit of familiar white noise (a fan, a heating vent, a white noise machine, softer music, etc.) can actually make you feel more relaxed, and can help your brain feel less of a need to compensate for the lack of sensory intake as you fall asleep by giving you something to focus on.
The Tips and Tricks of Sleep Deprivation:
While many who struggle with sleep deprivation have heard these suggestions many times before, there are a few simple tricks to help prevent sleep deprivation in people with both normal and abnormal melatonin levels:
- A Hot Glass: A hot glass of decaffeinated tea or milk can help kick your body and mind into relaxation mode. Hot milk and teas each have their own metabolism calming effects, and the aromas from hot decaffeinated teas can relax your brain enough to start releasing melatonin at a slightly faster rate than usual, helping you fall asleep.
- Counting Sheep: While many people have heard you are supposed to count imaginary sheep in order to fall asleep this concept is slightly off. Counting can be meditative, and the counting sheep trick can work well for small children who don’t wish to fall asleep, but in older children the idea of animals jumping around on some sort of field or gate can actually be distracting, and can prevent children from achieving the state of meditation that this trick is supposed to help achieve. Counting itself, or even repeating a phrase over and over, can help lull rhythm into the tired and anxious mind.
- Try!: Sleep can be elusive to even people with the most regular circadian rhythms. It is important to wind down, and actually make an attempt to lie down with your eyes closed. Nighttime routines can help your body realize it’s time to sleep. Being active or excited, or for some other reason having an elevated heart rate, can counteract melatonin being released with adrenaline. This wears the body more than either of these things on their own because the melatonin attempts to shut the body down while the adrenaline tries to perk the body up, and in result you are drowsy with an elevated heart rate preventing you from sleeping. Making a concentrated, relaxed attempt to sleep is one of the easiest and most important ways to combat sleep deprivation. Your brain is ultimately your own, and if you make no effort to sleep on a regular basis your brain is inclined to indulge you and as such produces less and less melatonin.