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The Dangers of "Junk Sleep", and What You Can Do About It

Parents of teenagers are likely familiar with the array of media outlets -- iPods, TV, cell phones, stereos, video games and computers -- that many teens are glued to at all hours of the day.

junk sleep

When's the last time YOU slept this peacefully? Check out the tips below to turn junk sleep into good sleep.

The lure of these electronics may be damaging kids' health, causing them to not get enough sleep, nor enough quality sleep, according to a poll of 1,000 teens conducted by the Sleep Council.

The survey of 12- to 16-year-olds found that:

  • 30 percent of teens sleep just four to seven hours a night on school nights, instead of the recommended eight to nine hours.

  • 23 percent say they fall asleep watching TV, listening to music or while using other electronics more than once a week.

  • 19 percent admitted that leaving on the TV or computer impacted the quality of their sleep.

  • 98.5 percent have a phone, music system or TV in their bedroom, and over 65 percent have all three.

  • 40 percent say they generally feel tired.

The result, researchers say, is that teens are getting "junk sleep" -- and it has just as much potential to impact their health as does eating junk food.

"This is an incredibly worrying trend," says UK sleep expert Dr. Chris Idzikowski of the Edinburgh Sleep Centre. "What we are seeing is the emergence of Junk Sleep -- that is sleep that is of neither the length nor quality that it should be in order to feed the brain with the rest it needs to perform properly at school."

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"I'm staggered that so few teenagers make the link between getting enough good quality sleep and how they feel during the day. Teenagers need to wake up to the fact that to feel well, perform well and look well, they need to do something about their sleep," Dr. Idzikowski says.

Are YOU Getting Junk Sleep?

Let's be honest. Teens are not the only ones guilty of falling asleep with the TV on, or staying up surfing the Web when they should be getting some Z's.

Adults, too, are skimping on their much-needed sleep.

In fact, according to the 2002 Sleep America poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), Americans sleep just 6.9 hours per night on average during the week and just 7.5 hours per night on weekends. In contrast, before the invention of the light bulb, people slept about 10 hours each night.

Meanwhile, an estimated 70 million Americans are impacted by a sleep problem, according to NSF.

What is this lack of sleep doing to all of us? Plenty.

Consider the findings of this National Institutes of Health (NIH) sleep study conducted on rats. While rats normally live for two to three years, those deprived of all sleep only live about three weeks, and those deprived of REM sleep (the stage of sleep when we dream and during which it's thought brain regions used in learning are stimulated) survive only about five weeks on average.

At the same time, the rats developed abnormally low body temperatures and sores on their tails and paws. Researchers believe the sores indicate a sluggish immune system and suggest just how detrimental sleep deprivation can be to the immune system of humans.

Further, according to the Sleep Council, not sleeping enough could ,,,

  • Make you fat. People who sleep four hours a night or less are 73 percent more likely to be overweight than those who sleep enough. Even if you sleep less than six hours a night, you're 25 percent more likely to be overweight than those who sleep longer.

  • Increase your appetite (also causing you to gain weight). Research by University of Bristol researchers found that people who slept for five hours had 15 percent more of a hormone called ghrelin, which increases your appetite, than those who slept for eight hours. Meanwhile, the short sleepers also had 15 percent less leptin, which is a hormone that suppresses appetite.

  • Mimic the aging process. In fact, University of Chicago researchers found that sleeping for four hours a night for less than seven nights interferes with your ability to process and store carbs, and regulate hormone levels -- all of which may lead to aging.

  • Impact your brain. According to Canadian sleep expert Stanley Coren, you lose one IQ point for every hour of lost sleep you didn't get the night before.

How to Get Enough Quality Sleep (for Your Teen AND Yourself)

If you find that you have a tough time settling down for sleep each night, try these tips for a night of pure, uninterrupted slumber (they're quick and easy, and will fit into even your teen's busy schedule):

  1. Create a relaxing bedtime routine.

  2. Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning.

  3. Exercise (but not too close to bedtime, as it could keep you up).

  4. Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, and dark--and use it only for sleep (not watching TV, surfing the Web, chatting on the phone or playing video games).

  5. Drink a cup of relaxing tea, like chamomile.

  6. Massage your feet.

  7. Stretch a bit before you lie down.

  8. Once you are in bed, listen to a relaxation CD like the Sleep Easy CD to help you "shift gears" and relax into sleep.

Recommended Reading

Stress Keeping You Awake? Stressed Because You Can't Sleep?

If You Want to Be More Attractive & Optimize Your Weight, New Research Says Proper Sleep is Essential


The Sleep Council

National Sleep Foundation

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