No matter your age, sleep is important for maintaining your mental and physical health. Not getting enough can lead to some unpleasant symptoms, as well as increasing your risk for certain diseases and health conditions.
Since the HSC is already no walk in the park, getting a decent amount of sleep is essential for teens and can make the whole experience that little bit easier.
While there are a number of signs that you’re not getting enough sleep, we’ve listed the top five in this article, along with the causes of these symptoms, and some tips for improving your sleep hygiene.
Let’s dive in!
How much sleep is ‘enough’?
It depends! The amount of sleep you should be getting will change across your lifetime and can vary from person to person. Generally speaking though, adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep each night, while teenagers between 14 and 17 years old need around 8-10 hours.
When going through the HSC, getting this much sleep is especially important so that you function better in class and while studying at home, remember all of the information you’re spending so much time studying, and don’t fall asleep in class.
Some evidence suggests that teenagers tend to need more sleep than adults because of changes in their body clocks. This means that teenagers will naturally start to become sleepier later in the evening and want to wake up later in the morning.
Signs You’re Not Getting Enough Sleep
#1: Feeling all sorts of emotions
What to Look For
Not getting enough sleep can impact your mood and leave you feeling more emotional than usual. Sleep deprivation is also linked to an increase in some symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, such as:
- Feeling down, sad, hopeless, or irritable
- Experiencing negative feelings that affect how you function day-to-day
Sleep also impacts our emotional intelligence. This means that your ability to cope with stress, relate to other people, and your emotional self-awareness can be affected, leaving you feeling more stressed or anxious about things that wouldn’t otherwise bother you normally.
You might also feel less in-control of your emotions or more mentally exhausted.
Some evidence suggests that different regions of the brain function differently when we don’t get enough sleep, and that similar changes occur in people suffering from mood disorders. While poor sleep can be a sign of depression or anxiety, a lack of sleep can also worsen your mood, making it hard to identify the root of the problem.
On the other hand, some sleep studies have found that getting more sleep is associated with a reduction in these symptoms. Getting enough sleep also helps in the recovery from stressful experiences and the regulation of your hormones.
#2: Feeling sluggish and dozing off
What to Look For
While feeling a bit tired when you wake up is pretty normal, feeling disoriented or confused when you wake up or sluggish and sleepy throughout the school day might be a sign that you’re not sleeping enough. You might feel more clumsy or that your hand-eye coordination is worse than usual.
Dozing off while sitting down and doing certain activities can be a sign of inadequate sleep too, especially while:
- Reading or watching TV
- Sitting still in class, during movies, or while talking to someone
- In the car, either as a passenger for an hour without a break or while stopped for a few minutes in traffic
You might also fall asleep for really short periods of time (1-10 seconds at a time) without realising that you’re asleep. These are called microsleeps and can affect your ability to concentrate while driving, listening to lectures, or in class.
When we’re sleep deprived, the neurons in our brains are less responsive and we take longer to analyse situations and respond to things as they happen. This is why you might feel less alert or more clumsy.
Feeling very groggy or confused when you wake up is a sign that you’re waking up from a deep sleep. This could be because your body isn’t getting enough deep sleep earlier in the night, you’re not getting enough sleep, or there is something disturbing your sleep during the night.
#3: Forgetfulness and … what was I saying?
What to Look For
If you’re finding it hard to concentrate during the day or you’re more forgetful than usual, it might be because you’re not sleeping enough. After several nights of not getting enough sleep, you might find it harder to think creatively or abstractly,
When it comes to studying, being unable to concentrate can affect your attention span, reduce your ability to learn, and make it harder to retain new information. In fact, not getting enough sleep can reduce your ability to learn by up to 40%.
Some research also suggests that poor sleep can affect your performance at school and lead you to making more mistakes and more rash decisions.
As we mentioned earlier, changes in how our brains function are the culprit. While dozing, our brains consolidate information and memories from each day and prepare to learn new information the next day.
Our brains reinforce memories so that we can remember facts or steps for completing a task. Not getting enough sleep or experiencing fragmented sleep means that our brains don’t get enough time to do this, and can even lead to the creation of false memories!
#4: Getting sick more
What to Look For
The amount of sleep you get can have a direct impact on your immune system, and not getting enough can even make you more likely to catch a cold!
In a study exposing participants to the virus that causes the common cold, they found that participants that got less than six hours of sleep each night were more likely to become infected. In the long term, not getting enough sleep can increase your risk for chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, and stress-related diseases.
Your immune system is regulated by sleep and your circadian rhythm. While you sleep, immune cells are produced and circulated so that they end up in your lymphoid organs (where you’re exposed to viral cells).
When you don’t get enough sleep, less of these immune cells are produced. This means that there are fewer immune cells to fight off infection, so you’re more likely to get sick.
#5: Craving sugary and starchy foods
What to Look For
The quality and amount of rest that you get each night can affect how hungry you are and make you crave certain foods. So if you’re craving sugary, starchy, or salty foods or you’re hungrier than usual, you might need some more sleep.
Sleep helps regulate the levels of different hormones in our bodies. This includes hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) and full (leptin).
When you don’t get enough rest, the levels of ghrelin increases and leptin decreases, meaning that you will feel hungrier (and less full) than when you’re well-rested.
Certain regions in the brain are also responsible for signalling that we’re hungry and for figuring out which foods we want to eat. When we don’t sleep, studies have found that these areas are affected. This means that we crave high-calorie foods, such as sweet, salty and starchy foods, and want to eat more.
Poor sleep can also lead our bodies to processing sugar (glucose) at a slower rate. When combined with cravings for less healthy food and more of it, this can lead to weight gain.
How to Get More Sleep
If you’re not getting enough sleep, never fear! There are some things you can do to improve your sleeping habits and get a bit more shuteye.
- Going to bed and waking up at around the same time each day (including weekends)
- Getting some exercise during the day
- Avoiding drinking caffeinated or sugary drinks at night
Before bed, it’s also a good idea to dim lights in your bedroom and avoid using electronic devices such as phones and tablets. If you do use them, you should dim the screen brightness and enable any available blue-light filters.
Blue light can trick our brains into thinking it’s still daytime, meaning that we produce less melatonin (the hormone that makes us sleepy), so avoiding or reducing your exposure can make it easier to fall asleep!
For even more ways to establish a healthy sleep routine, head here.
But, if you are sleeping more regularly and continue to experience these symptoms or you’re sleeping more than usual, get in touch with your doctor to find out if something else is going on.
Now if you’re looking for more resources on wellbeing, check out some of our other articles below:
- How to Study for the HSC When You Have Insomnia
- 5 Signs You’re Depressed and What You Can Do About Your Mental Health
- 3 Biggest Causes of Stress for Students During the HSC
- How many hours should you be sleeping as a high school student?
- The Definitive Guide to Managing HSC Stress and Anxiety
Rachel Fieldhouse is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and has just completed a double degree in Science and Arts at The University of Sydney, majoring in Chemistry, English, and Linguistics. Rachel’s writing has been published in Concrete Playground, Inside Enterprise, Planting Seeds, and SURG FM, and she currently writes blog posts for Remi AI, a Sydney-based Artificial Intelligence firm. When she’s not writing, you can find Rachel playing her saxophone or flute, or relaxing with some sudoku.