The NIDA Blog Team
December 7 2016
Image from the CDC. See the CDC’s infographic about sleep at http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0806-school-sleep.html.

Skipping sleep doesn’t just make you feel sleepy, exhausted, and crabby; it actually makes things harder for your brain. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last year that schools should consider starting the school day later, to give teens time to sleep in. That’d be great, right?

Whenever your day starts, getting enough sleep is one of the smartest things you can do. Read on to learn why.

Sleep more, learn more

Americans of all ages should be getting more sleep—and that includes teens. According to the CDC, teens need at least eight hours of sleep per night, but two out of three U.S. high school students aren’t getting that much.

Scientists are still studying why sleep is so important. So far, they’ve learned that it may help your brain organize and retain your memories, so that you learn more and remember more of what you learn. Oh yeah, and it helps you survive, too!

As we’ve written before, the downsides of not getting enough sleep are enough to keep you up at night. They include general unhappiness, a weaker immune system (which can make you more vulnerable to illness), an increased risk of substance misuse, and an increased risk of car crashes—just to name a few.

What about medication to get more Zzzz’s?

A lot of adults have difficulty falling or staying asleep and they frequently turn to their doctors for prescription sleeping aids. But these aren’t for everyone. They’re a type of medication called depressants, because they “depress” the normal activity in your brain and spinal cord.

Most teens don’t need a prescription sleeping aid. But if your doctor prescribes a sleeping aid for you, take it only as directed by the doctor. Using it for any reason other than to fall asleep, or using a prescription sleeping aid that was prescribed for someone else, can be very dangerous.

Count sheep—or just sleep

If you need more sleep, try these tips, adapted from the American Psychological Association:

  1. Go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.
  2. Don’t consume caffeine four to six hours before bed, and use less caffeine during the day.
  3. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.
  4. Get regular exercise.
  5. Minimize noise, light, and very hot or cold temperatures where you sleep.
  6. Try to go to bed earlier every night for a while; this will ensure that you’re getting enough sleep.

It can seem unfair if you have to “work” at falling asleep. But with practice, it will probably get easier, and your brain will thank you for it.

Can you get addicted to caffeine? Find out here.

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