Adolescents aren’t getting enough sleep: Research shows exhaustion impairs the brain, reduces grey matter and compromises cognitive function

Not getting enough sleep can damage your health. Now, researchers have found evidence on how compromised sleep affects the brain of teenagers.

A team of researchers from Inserm and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare collaborated on a study to determine the relationship between the sleep habits of teenagers and how it could affect the structure of their brains. The study was published in the journal Scientific Reports and was supported by the Academy of Finland.

For the study, the researchers analyzed the brain and sleep routine of more than 170 students – all of whom were 14 years old. They observed that the teenagers went to bed and got up at different times during week nights and weekends. On week nights, they went to bed at 10:20 p.m. and got up at 7:06 a.m. on average. On the other hand,they stayed up until around 11:30 p.m. and woke up at around 9:45 a.m. on weekends.

The researchers discovered that a short period of sleep — which is less than seven hours — during the entire week and going to bed an hour later at weekend were associated with smaller volumes of grey matter in three areas of the brain – the frontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and precuneus. These parts of the brain play a role in attention, concentration, and the ability to multitask. They also saw a link between poor grades of the students and smaller amounts of grey matter in their frontal regions, which are the regions where the volume is reduced by late bedtimes at weekends.

“The most significant result from our study is very definitely the finding that the later the adolescents go to bed at weekends, the greater the reduction in their volume of grey matter,” explained Jean-Luc Martinot, research director at Inserm and the final author of the study.

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In conclusion, the findings of the study indicate that lack of sleep in teenagers can compromise their academic success as it can lead to lack of concentration, lack of attention, difficulty with multitasking, and poor grades. The researchers believe that their study suggest that teenagers should have good sleep routines during adolescence because it is the time of brain maturation.

“We encourage parents, social workers, and school liaison officers to promote the maintenance of a good sleep-wake routine for adolescents,” expressed Martinot. “In particular, avoiding routinely late bedtimes during weekends seems important for optimizing the brain’s potential for development and for supporting academic success.” (Related: 40% of teenagers sleep 7 hours or less, trading sleep for more time on their smartphones.)

Ways on how to get a good night’s sleep for teens

Teenagers need to sleep for about eight to 10 hours every night to function at their best. However, most teenagers do not get enough sleep and tend to have irregular sleep patterns over the week. Here are ways on how to get quality sleep.

  • Prioritize sleep and work on what you need to change to get the right amount of sleep.
  • Make your bedroom a sleep haven. It is important to keep it cool, quiet, and dark and make it as comfortable as possible to help you sleep. If needed, get eyeshades or blackout curtains. Moreover, let the morning sun become the signal to wake the body up.
  • Refrain from drinking coffee, tea, or soda and eating chocolate late in the day to help you sleep at night. In addition, avoid nicotine and alcohol as these will also interrupt sleep.
  • Make a bedtime and wake up time schedule and follow it. A consistent sleep routine will also make you feel less tired as it will allow the body to be synchronized with its natural patterns.
  • Avoid eating, drinking, or exercising a few hours before bedtime.
  • Do not cram when doing your homework.
  • Do not watch TV or use the computer or mobile phone an hour before you go to bed.

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