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Losing sleep: How night owls live by night and manage sleep deprivation

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 21 2014 12:15 p.m. MST

She said people who are sleep deprived stand out — less in a physical sense, but more in how they act mentally. They’re usually anxious, stressed or depressed, she said. Depression, anxiety and stress cause your brain to race rapidly and keep you awake at night, Haight said.

Both Verma and Haight said technology screens — like those from a television, computer, tablet or cellphone — also have an effect on night owls. Haight said the lights from TVs and tablets cut the natural amount of melatonin, which is the primary hormones that make people feel drowsy.

“Right up until you go to bed,” she said, “you’re not giving your body the chance to have the natural drowsy phase.”

Losing out on that phase, she said, could hurt your memory, functionality and ability to heal mental wounds.

Young night owls

Haight treats adolescents from time to time, and she’s seen sleep problems for them, too. Youth is a “time when lifelong habits are developing,” she said, so getting into a habit of poor self-care and poor hygiene “can be carried through into adulthood.”

Verma said night owls are fairly common among the youth as their bodies are wired differently and need different hours of sleep. The National Sleep Foundation published a report that said those ages 5 to 10 need 10 or 11 hours of sleep, while those ages 10 to 17 need between 8.5 and 9.25 hours of sleep.

“Being a night owl as a young person, like when you’re in elementary school, is quite common,” Verma said. “And that actually becomes much worse when they become a teenager.” Teenagers usually stay up late, searching the Web or chatting with friends, Verma said. But often, teens have to wake up earlier for school — forcing them to miss out on hours of sleep.

Sleep apnea, though, is a major cause for concern among the youth, Verma said. He said that those with sleep apnea have lower scores in schools even five or 10 years after they stopped having the sleep disorder.

The young night owls, Verma said, will also be affected mentally if they’re not grabbing the right hours of sleep. Sometimes they might be irritable and less attentive, she said.

Solutions for sleep

Jonathan Steele, a holistic nurse who has his own private practice in Scranton, Pa., works for Water Cures, a nonprofit organization that seeks to find medical cures through water-based methods.

One thing he has to do constantly is aid the ill to fall asleep. He’s tried to help his patients find ways to fall asleep. He suggests those with sleep issues try and move their eyes around the room and get their minds off the issues that are keeping them awake.

The NSF recommends those with sleep issues stick to the same bed time, practice a bed time ritual, avoid naps, exercise, redesign their room to fit their sleeping needs and avoid alcohol, cigarettes and heavy meals at night, among other tips.

Haight said the sleep deprived should set a routine for themselves and stick to it. Whenever they want to go to bed — whether it’s late or early in the night — they should follow that schedule and keep going to bed at that time.

Verma agreed that sticking to a schedule is important to avoiding negative effects of being a night owl. He recommends the night owls — or those who work late night work shifts or have sleep medical issues — get eight hours “at a goofy time” of the day, like from 4 a.m. to noon, and not adjust their schedule to fit the normal day and night hours. Getting eight hours — or at least as many hours of sleep your body needs to function — is important, he said.

“Everyone knows no one sleeps exactly the same amount of sleep,” he said, “just like no one eats the right amount of food.”

Haight suggests you keep your eyes away from the clock. Looking at the clock gets your mind racing by thinking of the time and how much longer you have until you need to wake up.

“It doesn’t help anything, and it can have negative effects,” she said. “That is just not information that’s going to do me any good. Might as well just go back to bed, try to relax and try to get some sleep.”

Haight said finding time to sleep is a basic self-care task, like eating food. If there’s something messed up with that, she said, then someone isn’t taking care of himself or herself on a fundamental level.

“Sleep is a fundamental, basic kind of self-care,” she said. “And if we don’t take care of ourselves in these basic ways, then taking care of yourself in more frivolous ways is kind of pointless.”

Email: hscribner@deseretnews.com

Twitter: @hscribner

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