UAE psychologist urges teens to adopt strict sleep schedule to support mental health

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A leading UAE psychologist is urging adolescents to start setting themselves a consistent sleep schedule to help ward off common mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, and negative thought patterns – all of which can arise from long-term sleep deprivation.

Speaking on World Sleep Day, which is marked on March 17, Dr Catherine Musa from Priory Wellbeing Center in Dubai believes adopting a consistent schedule is the single-biggest change that can ensure a good night’s sleep.

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While everyone – no matter their age – can be negatively affected by the general impact of sleep deprivation, the specific impact on adolescents and their cognitive and emotional development cannot be understated.

Teens need 8-10 hours every night, yet studies highlight that up to 70 percent of high school students do not get enough sleep .

Dr Musa says: “Adolescents, by the very nature of their age, can struggle to obtain the right amount of sleep. Biologically, their sleep drive tends to build up more slowly, meaning they do not tend to feel tired until much later in the evening as a result of their body not producing melatonin – the sleep hormone – until much later in the day than adults. Because of this biological delay, many teens are simply not able to fall asleep early enough to ensure the recommended eight hours’ sleep.”

“They then try to catch-up by sleeping in at weekends, which only further delays their sleep schedule.”

“This can then be significantly exacerbated by the many demands placed on them because of their hectic weekly schedules of school, homework, clubs and sports. This is not forgetting the increased use of electronic devices, often in the late hours, which emit blue light which research has proven suppresses the production of melatonin and thus delays sleep onset.”

“Screen use often goes hand-in-hand with social media, which can be associated with stress and general angst as a result of its content. All of this can significantly affect sleep patterns.”

A recent study has further highlighted how improving sleep quality can significantly improve mental health by leading to a reduction in the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, regardless of their severity.

Dr Musa is urging teens, in particular, to establish a consistent sleep schedule.

“Our bodies thrive on routine and setting a sleep schedule can help regulate the body’s internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night and wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. It’s key to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even at weekends.”

Some of the key repercussions of long-term sleep deprivation include depression, anxiety, impaired cognitive function, such as decreased concentration and memory and problem-solving skills, mood swings, irritability and emotional outbursts and risk-taking behaviour – a decrease in impulse control, which can lead to risk taking behaviour such as substance abuse.

Dr Musa provides her top recommendations for helping to ensure a good night’s sleep:

Stick to a consistent sleep schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day helps regulate your body’s internal clock and makes it easier for you to fall asleep at night. Aim for at least 7-8 hours of sleep every night.

Establish a relaxing bedtime routine

This will help your body wind down and prepare for sleep. This could include taking a warm bath, reading a book, listening to calming music, or practicing meditation or deep breathing exercises. If any worries are present, make a brief note of them on paper and postpone problem-solving until the next day when they will be easier to resolve.

Be physically active during the day

Try to get outdoors as much as possible during the day as this gives you exposure to daylight which is beneficial for the regulation of our circadian rhythms and in-turn sleep quality.

Limit caffeine intake

Avoid consuming caffeine at least 7-8 hours before bedtime as it can interfere with your sleep quality and make it harder for you to fall asleep.

Create a sleep-friendly environment

Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet and cool. Use comfortable pillows and a mattress and remove any distractions such as TVs, laptops, and phones.

Reduce screen time before bed

The blue light emitted by electronic devices can disrupt your body’s natural production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. Avoid using smartphones, laptops, and tablets for at least an hour before bedtime to improve your sleep quality.

Dr Musa, adds: “Quality sleep is like a mental health ‘super-power’. It is crucial to brain function, concentration, memory and emotional regulation. No matter our age, sleep really is the golden chain that ties our health and bodies together.”

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