Health experts are in near-total agreement that consistent, good quality sleep is crucial for a number of health measures. A recent study confirms that sleep is important to maintain healthy behaviors, too. The research team found that young people who go to bed late drink and smoke more than their early-to-bed counterparts.
The scientists found that drinking and smoking behaviors were a result of increased impulsivity owing to lack of sleep.
Sleep and your brain
When you’re tired, your ability to think through the consequences of your actions is dampened, and you’re more likely to make a choice that you wouldn’t otherwise make when you’re feeling refreshed.
The results of this study don’t come as a surprise, as study after study show that poor quality sleep significantly affects the way you think. Insufficient sleep is associated with unethical behavior as rated by work supervisors. This could be due to a drop in decision-making capabilities, as and poor quality sleep has a known negative effect on accuracy and problem-solving when making decisions.
A bad night’s sleep here and there happens to everyone. If you didn’t sleep well and you find yourself reaching for sugary treats, opt for better sweets instead.
Consequences of poor sleep can be severe for young people
Engaging in drinking and smoking behaviors can certainly have long-term effects on health, and can lead to potentially deadly behaviors like driving under the influence of alcohol. But some effects of poor quality sleep are just as dire but not as obviously dangerous.
Early high school start times are associated with higher frequency of teen car crash rates. Some schools are starting to pay attention to these patterns, moving start times later in the morning.
Teens were able to improve academic performance in math, English, science and social studies, and showed improvements in achievement test scores in schools that started at 8:35am or later, and one school that shifted start time from 7:35 am to 8:55 am showed a 70% reduction in teen car crashes.
Sleep quality and maintaining a healthy weight
Studies show that reduced sleep duration leads to weight gain in women. A systematic review of several studies shows that shorter sleep duration appears to lead to weight gain. One possible reason is that we are more likely to consume more food the day after poor sleep, because your body is craving energy to stay awake. Another possible reason is that insufficient sleep disrupts your body’s hunger and satiety signals, which changes your eating habits.
Coffee isn’t actually helpful
A bad night’s sleep makes you want to reach for your morning jolt, but resist the urge. Coffee doesn’t actually make up for a bad night’s sleep. Your heart will beat faster and you’ll feel more awake, but what’s happening below the surface doesn’t change.
Insufficient sleep causes cognitive declines and attention problems that do not respond to stimulants like coffee. Even though you feel more awake and alert, your brain isn’t firing on all cylinders.
The best way to ensure that you’re using your brain to its full potential is to make sure you’re intentional about good sleep habits.
Tips for a great night’s sleep
- Get some form of exercise during the day. If you’re not moving enough, it’s harder to sleep well. Make sure you’re doing something every single day. Even walking the dog counts.
- Go to bed at a reasonable hour. Even if you don’t have to wake up early, your brain is set to perform certain maintenance and repair tasks at certain times based on yoru body’s circadian rhythm. If you’re not sure what your best bedtime is, shoot for 10:00-11:00 PM and adjust from there based on how you feel.
- Scale back your thermostat. Your body reaches a better sleep state when you’re slightly on the cool side. (Don’t keep it so cold that you can’t comfortably fall asleep, though.)
- Sleep in a dark room. Lights from open windows, electronic screens, and night lights can disrupt your sleep without you being aware of it.
- Start an evening wind-down routine. About 30 minutes to an hour before bed, do a few things that signal to your body that it’s time to settle in. Do a simple stretching routine, take a warm bath, sip on a relaxing herbal tea, or read a book.
- Keep a notebook by your bed. If your mind starts racing at night, write down your concerns so that you can revisit them in the morning. Visualize yourself pulling the thought out of your head and storing it on paper. It sounds hokey, but it helps!