Sleep has been described as the golden chain that ties our physical and mental health together. It’s a fact that sleep and health are strongly linked; poor sleep can negatively affect our health and health problems can make it harder for us to sleep, potentially creating a vicious circle which can be tricky to tackle.

Getting the most restful sleep we can is a priority if we want to feel good and function at our best. What happens when we sleep is actually a complex process but understanding more about what’s going on can help us take action to improve how well rested we feel in the morning and throughout the day.

Why sleep patterns change in adolescence

Older teens need 8-10 hours per night which may sound like a lot, however this is down to the additional stage of development taking place at this point in their lives.

At 16/17 years old you may have noticed that you don’t feel sleepy until later at night, compared to how tired you felt earlier in the evenings when you were younger. This happens in adolescence because there is a natural shift in circadian (24 hour cycle) rhythms called; ‘sleep phase delay’. As a result, the need to fall asleep is delayed by about 2 hours. So it may not be that you’ve actively chosen to burn the midnight oil, more a case of staying up later-and having a long lie the next morning- is a biological need!

Why is a full night’s sleep important?

’Sleep architecture’ refers to the phases of sleep humans go through while ‘visiting the land of nod’.

There are two basic types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-REM which has three different phases. Crucially, getting a good night’s rest depends on moving through all the phases on a cycle/cyclical basis several times per night. Each cycle lasts around 90-120 minutes so if we don’t manage to complete them as necessary we can be left feeling groggy and out of sorts when morning comes.

What’s more, if you’re having trouble sleeping, there may be a genetic cause. Don’t blame your Nan or Grandad though-if they’ve had to deal with the same issue they could be in a position to offer useful advice.

So that’s the science bit! But what if you’re not waking up full of beans and raring to go as the day begins? What are the implications?

Why (lack of) sleep can affect mental wellbeing

• Getting less than 7 hours sleep each night can make you angry, stressed and sad.

• It can affect your memory too as disrupted sleep interferes with the normal changes in our brains which strengthen our memories.

• Less sleep is also linked to higher levels of depression and teens with more depression have problems falling or staying asleep-it’s that vicious cycle again.

It’s also been established that both stress and sleep deprivation can increase the incidence of sleepwalking. In turn this can jeopardise the safety of the person affected.

Why changing our approach can help

Developing healthy sleep habits takes perseverance but fortunately this is one of the skills we pride ourselves on here at Evolve! We know that some goals take time, as well as commitkment, to achieve.

• In lockdown our usual routine may have gone by the wayside. So create a schedule-go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. This helps retrain your brain and body to feel ready for sleep at a certain time.

• Exercise during the day but no later than a few hours before hitting the sack. Vigorous exercise right before bed can increase the length of time it takes to nod off. Try gentle yoga or meditation to unwind instead.

• Avoid caffeine (and alcohol) close to bedtime as they have a stimulating effect. Remember that some so-called caffeine-free drinks can actually contain traces of it.

• Not everyone can easily soundproof their room but if noise is a problem then investing in a pair of earplugs could provide the solution.

• Making a relatively minor change has the potential to transform the quality of our sleep. If your pillow has seen better days, buying a new one could make a huge difference to how rested you feel.

• It’s not advisable to eat a big meal before bed but having a snack such as kiwi fruit, banana or drink of malted milk instead, can promote sound sleep.

Why sleeping well can help us live healthier and happier lives

Good sleep is as important as diet or exercise in keeping us happy and healthy according to an expert in the field, Professor Kevin Morgan of Loughborough University.

• ‘Getting up on the right side of the bed’ has nothing to do with which side you roll out of, but sleeping soundly can lead to good moods. It makes sense. If you sleep well, you wake up feeling rested and being rested helps your energy levels soar. When your energy is up, life’s little challenges won’t annoy you as much.

• Sound sleep has been linked to improved concentration and higher cognitive function, both of which can help you be successful at work or on your course.

• We know that sleep improves memory. Even though sleeping well gives your body the rest it needs, your mind is still active. It’s actually processing and reinforcing your memories from that day.

• Sleep affects all types of exercise performance and helps with hand-eye coordination, reaction time and muscle recovery all of which are relevant to us given the physical demands of our training as Evolve cadets.

Although lots of research on sleep has been carried out, the full extent of its biological purpose actually remains something of a mystery. That said, scientists recognise that sleep plays a major role-in fact, one that is vital for life.

In other words, there’s no doubt that to maintain a healthy body and mind we need to get enough good quality sleep. Sweet dreams!

*If you are affected by a sleep disorder or mental health issue it’s important to seek medical advice.