Sleep! It’s Good for You!

We are excited to welcome Sarah Kate McGowan, Ph.D. this week as a guest blogger.   She is a clinical psychologist specializing in behavioral sleep medicine.  Sarah Kate is also a former TEEN LINE listener!


New Year’s Resolution: Get Better Sleep!

With the New Year just behind us, many of us have committed to several New Year’s resolutions: eat better, exercise, read more. One health practice that is often overlooked and undervalued is our sleep. Sleep has a big impact on our health and poor sleep or insufficient sleep can lead to a host of negative outcomes. For teens, this is especially true as their internal clocks are changing during this time. (Typically, teens’ internal clocks are telling them to go to sleep later and sleep in later). Teens need around 8-10 hours of sleep per night, but between school and social demands, most teens are not getting enough sleep.

Not getting enough sleep or insufficient sleep can lead to:

• Feeling tired during the day: When you haven’t had enough sleep, you feel tired and sluggish. You might feel like you don’t have the energy to do the things you want to do.
• Difficulty with concentration and memory: It can be hard to pay attention in classes or recall information for a test. A good night’s sleep before an exam is better than pulling an all-nighter to study.
• Irritability and mood changes: Poor sleep can make you more likely to get frustrated and lash out at friends, parents and teachers. It can also make you feel moody, depressed or anxious.
• Weight gain: You might be more likely to eat more or choose unhealthy foods that lead to weight gain.
• Accidents: You are not a safe driver when you are sleep deprived. Driving while sleep deprived (or drowsy driving) is akin to driving with a BAC of .08%, which is illegal in many states. Over 100,000 crashes happen each year due to drowsy driving.

What you can do:

• Take your sleep seriously! Commit to improving your sleep as an important health practice (and because you’ll feel better). If you are a parent, talk to your teens about their sleep and set a good example.
• Track your sleep in order to understand your sleep patterns and track progress using a sleep diary (like this
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule: This can be difficult for teens who need to get up early for school and want to sleep in on weekends. To the best of your ability, keep a regular bedtime and wakeup time on week days and weekends. This helps to train your internal clock and will make it easier to get up once your body adjusts to the routine.
• Get morning light: Light, especially sunlight helps to reset your internal clock each day. Getting light in the morning will help to wake you up and strengthen your routine.
• Don’t do anything in your bed but sleep! Move other activities outside of your bed (and bedroom, if possible). This helps to establish a bed=sleep connection in your brain.
• Resist using your phone/computer/tablet in bed. Not only does this weaken the bed=sleep connection, but the light from those devises will trick your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up.
• Create a bedtime routine: Give yourself some time to relax and wind down before going to sleep and do the same routine each night. This helps to alert your brain that sleep is coming soon.
• Write down worries/thoughts or make a to do list: This can help your brain wind down and reduce worry while trying to fall asleep.
• Don’t consume alcohol or nicotine before bed: both of these substances interfere with your sleep.
• Don’t drink caffeine within several hours of going to bed. Caffeine continues to affect our brains in ways that can keep us awake even after we stop feeling its effect. Make sure to stop drinking coffees, sodas, iced teas, energy drinks and anything else with caffeine in it in the afternoon.
• Poor sleep can also be a sign of other issues (for example, depression and anxiety), so if sleep problems persist, talk to your doctor. There are other sleep disorders that can interfere with your sleep (for example sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy) that are easily treatable. Your doctor may refer you to a sleep specialist for further evaluation and treatment. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I) is another option and is the leading treatment for people with insomnia.
• Do your research: Here are some sites with more information and resources:

And remember that making changes to your sleep (just like any other behavior) takes time and requires commitment. Don’t give up!

Wishing you a happy, healthy 2016! Sweet Dreams!

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