EVEN sleep has a “junk” variant.

Dr. Chris Idzikowski of the Edinburgh Sleep Center defines the emerging phenomenon of sleeping up late due to watching TV, texting, or listening to music as “junk sleep”. In his statement published in the website of the Sleep Council, an organization that promotes healthy sleep, Idzikowski said that junk sleep is sleep that is less than the quality or eight-hour minimum needed for the brain to rest, in order for a person to function well.

In an online poll conducted last June 13 and 18 by youth research and communications specialists group Dubit, 30 per cent of the teenage respondents only get four to seven hours of sleep per day.

Conducted in the United Kingdom, the survey involved 1,000 participants aged between 12 and 16 who were lacking hours of sleep.

According to Dubit, 23 per cent of the participants admit to falling asleep while watching TV, listening to music, or using electronic devices such as cellular phones and game consoles in their rooms. Also, 98.5 per cent of the respondents have either a cellular phone, music player, or television set in their bedrooms while 65.3 percent have all three. As a result of the lack of sleep, 40 per cent of the respondents reported that they generally feel tired during the day.

According to Dr. Rosalito de Guzman, head of the department of Psychology of the College of Science, each person has his own biological clock or Circadian rhythm, which is concerned with his sleep-wake cycle.

“Teenagers, who are used to sleeping late, wake up late in the morning. If they wake up and go to school early, they tend to sleep in class to compensate for their lack of sleep, or they don’t wake up early at all,” he said.

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In line with this, the Sleep Council also stated that students perform better in school in the afternoon. According to de Guzman, this is because the body still overcomes the inertia of rest in the morning. Thus, a person functions better in the afternoon when he is already fully awake.

The misused use

According to de Guzman, sleeping is the body’s way of replenishing lost energy during the day. Other than making up for lost energy, it also provides other important functions like fostering creativity and improving the performance of tasks.

In a study published last 2004 in Nature journal, scientists from the University of Luebeck in Germany demonstrated the importance of adequate sleep in fostering creativity. The study reported that people who were able to get eight hours of sleep were more likely to figure out a hidden rule in solving a mathematical problem compared to people who lacked sleep. Their study claimed that creativity and problem solving are directly linked to each other, which means that an adequate amount of sleep could induce better performance in problem solving.

Other studies conducted by Harvard Medical School researchers and published in Nature Neuroscience last December 2000, claim that sleep is necessary in improving tasks and that sleep deprivation may cause an impaired ability to learn new information. The researchers discovered that sleeping the first night after learning certain tasks may lead to an improved performance of the tasks. Lack of sleep causes decreased activity in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is necessary for learning and memory, which may lead to a flawed short-term memory.

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Less sleep, more problems

The Sleep Council also provided other possible effects of “junk” sleep among teenagers. According to researchers from the University of New York, one possible effect is weight gain, which is 73 per cent more likely to occur when the quality of one’s sleep suffers. Lack of sleep also suppresses the immune system, which makes the body more susceptible to diseases.

The Sleep Council also reported that sleep deprivation may also affect a person’s intelligence quotient (IQ). According to Stanley Coren, a Canadian sleep expert, lack of sleep may lead to the loss of one IQ point the next day for every hour of sleep lost. Coren says that steadily foregoing sleep may impede a person’s intellectual performance because of the constant decrease of IQ.

According to de Guzman, the person’s physical and mental condition when the IQ test was given also affects the results of the test.

“If the subject lacked sleep when he took the test, he may score lower than if he took it with the proper amount of sleep because he would have less energy, and more difficulty concentrating,” he said.

In order to avoid the onslaught of junk sleep, the Sleep Council recommends ways to prevent it like exercising regularly, at least 20 minutes, three times a week, and reducing caffeine intake. Also, a good sleeping environment must be ensured and a bed routine could also be maintained. De Guzman says if a person does the same things in the same order before sleeping, his brain is conditioned to go to sleep.

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Bananas – contains melatonin, a hormone which controls the body’s Circadian Rhythm, the muscle relaxant magnesium, and serotonin which relaxes the body and promotes sleep.

Chamomile tea – which has a mild sedative effect on the body.

Milk – contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is a precursor of serotonin and calcium, which helps the brain in using tryptophan.

Honey – a form of glucose which signals the brain to turn off orexin, a neurotransmitter associated with alertness.

Potatoes – takes away acids that can interfere with tryptophan.

Oatmeal – triggers melatonin activity.

Almonds – contains magnesium and tryptophan.

Flaxseeds – contains Omega-3, which can help lift up a person’s mood.

Whole wheat bread – helps release insulin, which aids in the transport of tryptophan to the brain.

Cottage cheese – an excellent source of tryptophan.


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