Posted by Karen Nichols

Nov 10, 2015 10:34:33 AM

Shutterstock/Monkey Business Images

Did you know that, as a teenager, you need eight to ten hours of sleep a night in order to function at your mental and physical best? Yet, according to the National Sleep Foundation, only 15% of teens get at least 8.5 hours of sleep on school nights. Read on to learn how you can get some more solid shut-eye.

Biological sleep patterns during the teen years — plus heavy homework, extracurricular, and social activities — can make for a lot of late nights. And early-morning start times at school don’t give you time to make up what you’ve lost.

You require more sleep than adults do because your brain spends more time in the sleep cycles responsible for improving neural connections and for consolidating and creating links with memories. Sleep plays an important role in the brain’s maintenance, too. While we sleep, the brain actively clears out all the “stuff” that has built up over the course of daily thinking. Somewhat like your kidneys remove waste from your blood, sleep removes waste from your brain.

Getting the proper amount of sleep is vital for you to perform well both in your regular coursework and on tests like the PSAT/SAT and ACT. Lack of sleep can lead to trouble focusing, anxiety symptoms, stomach discomfort, eye aches, and irritability — not exactly the ideal physical state for taking a college entrance exam.

With a proper night’s sleep, you will be more capable of improving your PSAT/SAT or ACT scores. The following are tips to help you get some solid sleep leading up to test day:

  • Shut down your electronics at least a half hour before bed. The light from glowing screens stimulates the brain and delays the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, making it harder for you to fall asleep.
  • Exercise during the day (but not right before bed). The extra exertion will help you to fall asleep more easily — and stay asleep.
  • Of course, limit caffeine intake in the evenings. This means avoiding coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate.
  • Try to make your bedtimes and wake times consistent, at least on weekdays. A regular bedtime routine — such as taking a shower then reading a book — also can signal your body that it’s time for sleep.
  • Dim the lights and lower the noise in your bedroom. Light-blocking window shades (or an extra blanket over a window) can help. If household lights or noise distractions are unavoidable, use a white noise machine, a fan, or soothing music to cancel out the noise and a sleep mask to shield your eyes from brain-stimulating light.
  • If you wake during the night, don’t turn on the overhead light or check the glowing screen of your smart phone to find out what time it is. Bright, white light signals your brain to wake up. Red and amber lights don’t have the same effect. Dim your phone screen at night if you’re prone to waking and checking the time. And remove or replace alarm clocks or other devices that will bring you to wakefulness if you see them in a darkened room.
  • Write down tasks that you need to remember before going to bed. Doing so tells your brain these thoughts will be accessible when you need them later, without you having to dwell on them when you are trying to fall asleep.
  • Use visualization or deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help deal with test anxiety. If you have trouble doing these exercises on your own, get a relaxation CD or audio recording (check YouTube) to play while falling asleep.

Almost every student experiences some ACT or PSAT/SAT test anxiety, so it’s important to have effective strategies for approaching the test as well as strategies for getting the proper amount of sleep. Otherwise, the anxiety you are experiencing is bound to keep you awake, causing poor memory and increased nervousness.

By embracing these tips, you will go into school or a testing situation feeling rested, confident, and better able to access and apply the knowledge you've gained from weeks or months of study. The results will be an overall improvement in your test-taking skills, higher PSAT/SAT or ACT scores — and better grades.

Additional ideas for improving your sleep can be found at

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