Researchers have found out that getting an adequate amount of sleep helps teenagers to deal with social stress efficiently. The study published in Child Development found that adequate sleep allowed students to cope with discrimination and challenges associated with ethnic or racial bias.
It also helps them solve a problem more effectively and seek peer support when faced with hardships.
“Understanding how sleep helps adolescents negotiate social challenges may consequently elucidate how promoting sleep may improve adolescent adjustment during high school and beyond,” said Yijie Wang, a professor at MSU.
Compared to adults and children, high school students are particularly at risk for insufficient sleep due to early school times, busy schedules and increased social stressors. The transition to high school also introduces more diversity to their social environment and relationships.
Wang and co-author Tiffany Yip of Fordham University through the research wanted to pinpoint the effect sleep has on coping with discrimination. The team found that if a teen has a good night of sleep, they are able to cope with harsh experiences – like discrimination – better.
“This study did not treat sleep as a consequence of discrimination. However, our team did identify the influence of discrimination on same-day sleep in other studies.
These studies showed that, on days when adolescents experienced ethnic or racial discrimination, they slept less and also took longer to actually fall asleep,” Wang said.
Participants in the study wore an actigraphy watch, which tracked physical activities in one-minute intervals and determined their sleep-wake state, every day for two weeks.
The students were also asked to complete a survey each day before bed, reporting their daytime experiences such as ethnic or racial discrimination, how they responded to stress and their psychological well-being.
Wang further mentioned that “Compared to parents, peers are likely to be witnessing and involved in adolescents’ experiences of ethnic or racial discrimination on a daily basis. As such, they’re more of immediate support that backs up adolescents and comforts them when discrimination occurs.”
Still, parents have an important role in helping their children cope with both sleep and social situations.
Beyond getting the recommended eight hours, the quality of sleep is just as important. That includes having a regular bedtime, limiting media use and providing a quiet, less crowded sleep environment.
While encouraging good sleep habits in adolescents can be a struggle, said Wang that the benefits of a routine help them cope with the challenges of life in high school and beyond.
“The promotive effect of sleep is so consistent. It reduces how much adolescents ruminate, it promotes their problem solving and it also helps them to better seek support from their peers,” Wang added.