Sleep expert recommends sticking to consistent schedule

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Photo: Pexels(WNDU)
Published: May. 8, 2019 at 7:48 AM EDT
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Sleep is something we all need and many of us don't get enough of it. A local sleep expert says it's important to have a regular sleep schedule, and that catching up on the weekends can actually be harmful.

It's crunch time for many high school and college students as they try to take those big end-of-year tests. Studying isn't the only thing they need to set them up for success, it starts with a good night's sleep.

A study done by the Sleep Cycle Institute found young people are most alert between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and again from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

They say avoid skimping on sleep because your motivation decreases with sleep deprivation. It also finds that teens who get 15 more minutes of sleep will increase their wake-up mood.

Pamela Swift, an assistant professor at UVM's Larner College of Medicine, says going from 6 hours to 6 hours and 15 minutes probably won’t make a big difference. However, going from 7 hours to 7 hours and 15 minutes most likely will.

Swift says the best way for anyone to improve their sleep is to be put on a schedule.

"Your body wants you to fall asleep and wake up at the same time every day. It makes it so, when you on the weekends are trying to catch up on sleep, you're actually doing your body a disservice because come Monday you're going to need to get your body into that regular sleep cycle," she said.

Swift says it’s important for educators and parents to look at national data that says starting school at a later time helps teens get more sleep. She applauded many of the schools in Vermont that have pushed back their start times.

Swift says for adults, it’s about creating new habits. She says many people are in the habit of falling asleep watching TV or scrolling through their phones. She advises to slowly replace screen time with a relaxing activity that doesn't involve a screen.

"The other thing I always tell adults and college students is that your bed should only be used for sleep and sex. You shouldn't be doing things like eating, reading, watching TV or working on homework," Swift said.

A sleep tracker could also help provide a baseline of sleep quality, but Swift says they're not 100 percent accurate.

She also says try to limit nap time but did recommend a "napaccino" or a caffeine nap. That's when you drink a cup of coffee, take a 20-minute nap and by the time you wake up the caffeine has kicked in.