The Importance of Sleep

The following information was shared at a recent parent forum at our sister school, The British International School of Kuala Lumpur. It is relevant for all ages but teenagers, in particular, should be aware of how sleep affects their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. 

What is sleep?  

  • The natural state of rest during which your eyes are closed and you become unconscious.
  • When the powers of the body are restored.
  • When the brain is able to do the work it has little time for during the day.
We sleep naturally when the sleep hormone serotonin is emitted which helps us to sleep. It is triggered at night (circadian rhythms).

What happens during sleep? 

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How much sleep should we be getting and why?

The amount of sleep you need decreases with age, but teenagers should be getting around 9 – 9 ½ hours a night. When we sleep many important jobs are carried out in the body and brain. If you don’t get 9 – 9 ½ hours regularly your health and mind suffer.

How is sleep good for the body?

  • Repair of cell damage - our immune system is repaired and reinforced.
  • Rest - long period of intense rest. The body's energy reserves are replenished.
  • Hormones - growth hormones are released for normal development.
  • Metabolism regulation - set to burn calories efficiently.

How is sleep good for the brain?

  • Filing - what we have learned during the day gets put into our long-term memory so we can retrieve it later.
  • Procedural memory - we rehearse procedures (patterns) that we have learned during the day, such as languages, sports, music etc.

How is sleep good for the mind?

A good night’s sleep increases;

  • Creativity - energy releases our potential.
  • Concentration.
  • Focus.
  • Perspective - with sleep we are able to think more clearly which is important for our mood and behaviour.

What happens if we do not get enough sleep?

  • Long term memory - we find it hard to remember as the filing system has not been organised.
  • Mood regulation - we are at greater risk of low mood, behaviour problems and depression.
  • Concentration - our ability to focus decreases.
  • Stress - our ability to deal with stressful situation decreases, we are prone to greater levels of anxiety.
  • Metabolism - not getting enough sleep is linked to obesity.
  • Growth - sleep deprivation can lead to delayed growth and puberty.
  • Immune system - not adequately repaired, we get sick more easily.

How can we sleep well and get a good night’s sleep?

  • Turn off all screens an hour before bed, including mobiles, iPads and laptops. Brain research shows that the light from computer screens. emits a light which interferes with our sleep hormone serotonin, i.e. it wakes us up!
  • Fix a bedtime and an awakening time. The body "gets used" to falling asleep at a certain time, but only if this is relatively fixed.
  • Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours before bedtime. This includes caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea and many sodas, as well as chocolate.
  • Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime. These can affect your ability to stay asleep.
  • Exercise regularly, but not right before bed. Regular exercise, particularly in the afternoon, can help deepen sleep. Strenuous exercise within the two hours before bedtime, however, can decrease your ability to fall asleep.

What is a good sleeping environment?

  • Use comfortable bedding. Uncomfortable bedding can prevent good sleep. Evaluate whether or not this is a source of your problem, and make appropriate changes.
  • Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool (not cold) bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep.
  • Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible. Reserve the bed for sleep. Don't use the bed as an office, workroom or recreation room. Let your body "know" that the bed is associated with sleeping.

What should we do before bedtime?

  • Try a light snack before bed. Warm milk and foods high in the amino acid tryptophan, such as bananas, may help you to sleep.
  • Practice relaxation techniques before bed. Relaxation techniques such as deep muscle relaxation, deep breathing and others may help relieve anxiety and reduce muscle tension.
  • Don't take your worries to bed. Leave your worries about school, daily life, etc. behind when you go to bed. Some people find it useful to assign a "worry period" during the evening or late afternoon to deal with these issues.
  • Establish a pre-sleep ritual. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep.
  • Get into your favourite sleeping position. If you don't fall asleep within 15-30 minutes, get up, go into another room, and read until sleepy.

Don’t forget, to be healthy and reach your potential you need a good night’s sleep!