We are all aware that having enough sleep is vital for good health, so much so that our mental and emotional health might be directly linked to the amount of sleep we are having each night. Over the pandemic, there have been growing reports of mental and emotional health decline, especially amongst adolescents. According to Denise Pope, an adolescent well-being expert, it would seem that most teenagers are not getting the requisite amount of sleep and this is affecting their mental wellbeing.
“If you had sort of a magic pill that you could take that would help increase your mental health, increase your physical health, lower your stress, make you more efficient…..Well, we do have that magic pill. “It’s called sleep,” says Pope.
In the fall of 2020, Pope’s Challenge Success team joined with NBC to survey 10,000 high school students on their well-being and academic engagement through the pandemic. The survey uncovered that most high school students were only getting an average of 6.7 hours of sleep a night – well below the recommended nine-hour benchmark, which only 7% of students were hitting. Five per cent of students regularly slept under four hours per night, the research team found.
The study found that 43% of high schoolers reported that they were sleeping less over the course of the pandemic since the pandemic struck, compared to only 23 who reported sleeping more. Anecdotal accounts indicate that quarantine spurred many teens to stay up all hours of the night, sleeping sporadically throughout the day while their Zoom cameras were off and using naps as a coping mechanism when they started to spiral.
As reported by the Guardian, between April and October last year, the share of mental health-related emergency department visits increased by 24% for children, and 31% for teens. Over one in five teenagers surveyed by EdWeek Research Center in April said their need for mental health counselling increased during the pandemic, compared to less than one in 10 who said it went down.
Though experts say it is too soon to tell whether the pandemic has spurred an increase in youth suicide attempts, parents of teens who took their own lives say that the circumstances of quarantine contributed to their children’s desperate condition.
With the interim data, it is clear to see that there is a more than likely correlation between a lack of sleep a drop in mental health.
In recent years, sleep has also been highlighted as an important precondition for academic success, helping young people pay attention and retain what they are taught. In a 2019 effort to safeguard rest time for teens, California pushed back school start times for middle and high school students statewide. But the mental benefits extend far beyond learning, experts say, emphasising sleep as a key to healthy emotional regulation for young people.
Susanne Button, a clinical psychologist who directs high school programming for the Jed Foundation, an organization dedicated to preventing youth suicide also emphasises the importance of healthy sleep habits saying that while “you can’t sleep off some of these stressors, but you certainly can link sleep into resilience, ……Adequate sleep for teenagers stabilises mood and reduces irritability and depression…….Adolescents who don’t have enough sleep tend to actually engage in more high-risk behaviour when they don’t feel mentally calm or happy…..Adolescents who get enough sleep tend to make better decisions and be less impulsive around risk-taking when they’re feeling stressed or distressed.”
With this in mind, to practice sleep hygiene is therefore imperative. Experts have a few tips:
- Push bedtime to just a few minutes earlier every week
As Pope says: “Don’t let yourself look at that extra TikTok video, don’t stay up for the news, whatever it is. Just try to move that needle by 15 minutes at a time.”
2. No Screen time an hour before bedtime
Screen use before bed is something parents ought to monitor, Pope says. Perhaps, to institute a no-devices-at-night rule for kids