Catching Some ZZZs

Imagine waking up to the sun streaming through your curtains. Trying to jog your memory on why your math homework is scattered all over your desk, you suddenly realize the one thing that’s missing – the snooze button.


Racing out the door, breakfast and combing your hair are the last things on your mind. Just in time; you make it to class with only a few seconds to spare. Despite all the differences between teenagers in today’s age, 80% of students at West High School, as night owls, can agree on one thing, the start of this problem: they all hate the sound of an alarm clock.

I’ve had some people come back and they say that just the difference between eight and nine hours of sleep can make them feel much more rested when they get up in the morning and just more ready to face the day.

— Dr. Alexandra Iannone

Out of the students we surveyed, about 85% believe that sleep is important to their daily schedule. Dr. Iannone, a pediatrician specializing in Sleep Medicine at the University of Iowa, explains the methodology behind it. “During the teenage years, your hormones are actually secreted through a day-and-night rhythm. When you don’t get enough sleep, the needed 8-10 hours for teenagers, it can throw off your stress and growth hormones and have actual physical effects on your health.”

Even a few extra hours of sleep can have a huge impact. “I’ve had some people come back and they say that just the difference between eight and nine hours of sleep can make them feel much more rested when they get up in the morning and just more ready to face the day,” Iannone said.

So if sleep is so important, why do we get so little of it? Of the inquired students, 75% refer to school, anxiety, social media, or a combination of all three when it comes to their number one sleep distraction. “I think one of the things that I see most people struggle with is having good sleep hygiene,” said Iannone. “Some people, their habits are something that they’ve been doing for a long time, like people sleeping with the TV on or not keeping a schedule and going to bed at different times every night. And a big thing that I’ve seen a lot with kids and teenagers is cell phone use at night.”

When it comes to realizing what keeps you up awake, the answer sometimes isn’t as simple as it seems. Mood disorders, like anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, or autism, are not sleep disorders, but they can cause secondary effects on our sleep. The best way to deal with them is to get treatment for those issues. “Occasionally, there can be medical issues as well. Things like thyroid conditions, if people have anemia, if somebody has pain for whatever reason. Physical conditions can sometimes have secondary effects on sleep too. And in the same way, doing the best job that you can to treat those conditions can help with sleeping your best as well,” Iannone said.

If you believe stress plays a major factor when it comes to getting your beauty rest, Dr. Iannone recommends finding your triggers and a way to release them. “I think it’s important to evaluate if stress is playing a role in your sleep disturbance. And if it is, talking to a therapist, and sometimes talking through those things, can make it much easier to turn your mind off at nighttime.”

When it comes to teenagers, Dr. Iannone explains how one of the biggest signs you’re not getting enough sleep comes from your mood. “I think that if you don’t have an underlying sleep disorder, but have a really bad night of sleep, the next day, it’s super common for teenagers to feel grouchy. When you go to school, and if you don’t have enough hours of sleep, a lot of times, it can mimic behavior disorders or mood disorders like ADHD, or anxiety, or depression. And sometimes these kids don’t actually have depression or ADHD, but it’s actually a side effect of having poor sleep and the effects that sleep has on moods.”

Other symptoms of sleep deprivation include your physical health. Out of the students we surveyed, 80% say that they feel neutral to tired on a regular day. Iannone said, “One or two nights of REM sleep that is not going to cause you any long-term harm. Depending on if a person has a sleep disorder, there are different kinds of physical harm. Usually, issues like high blood pressure and stuff like that can come from the increased stress hormones over time. However, it has to be something more chronic in order for it to cause long-term physical effects on someone.”

And if this is still your third time getting water from the kitchen in the middle of the night, Dr. Iannone believes a lot of teenagers would benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia. “We have one-on-one sessions at the hospital where you speak with a person that runs you through different kinds of mind-calming techniques, progressive relaxation, and habits that can help improve your sleep.”

Dr. Iannone also recommends having a calming routine before bed. “If you shower before bed, or read a little bit of a book, something that’s just part of a routine kind of gives cues to your body that it’s time to go to bed,” she said. 

Turning off any sources of blue light, such as the TV, or your phone, 30 minutes before you go to bed should also help in getting some shut-eye.

“Another big issue that I think is a huge issue of teenagers, especially now, is spending a lot of time in bed when you’re not sleeping,” Iannone said. “And I know that’s kind of a weird thing to say, to help you get a good night’s sleep, but if you do everything in your bed, the connections in your brain to the bed as being the place to sleep have been broken and are now associated with other things.”

So, if you’re still awake way past your bedtime, trying to find the cooler side of your pillow and counting sheep, realizing that your sleeping habits aren’t the best and using a few tips to fix them can help you receive your full night’s sleep.