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We’re In Sleep Crisis: Why 1/4 of Gen Z Can’t Sleep

by Tanya January 12, 2024

Sleep is an essential part of our physical and mental health.

Today, over 1 in 4 18-24 year olds experience insomnia nightly (29%).

This is the highest rate of insomnia out of any age group in the US and UK.

Its impact on our psychological well-being has been increasingly recognised, with a plethora of research underscoring its significance. 

The devide addiction, pressure to succeed professionally, low self-esteem – all contribute to poor sleep.

Reasons for poor sleep: differences between Millennials and Gen Z

Mental health app Calm released a survey that analysed sleep among different generations in the U.S. and U.K.

The study found Millennials and Gen Zs both face sleep barriers often impacted by caffeine and news consumption.

But two generation vary somewhat:

A major distinction is that Gen Z are not falling asleep nearly as fast as Millennials. Falling asleep is difficult for 46% of Gen Z and for just 25% of millennials.

And the major reason for that is technology use before bed.

Gen Z are much more likely to go to bed with their phone in their hand.

While tech may not be the No1 reason for poor sleep for Millennials, they are more bound by caffeine and alchohol consuption before bed, which may be the reason they don’t sleep well.

What is keeping us up at night: similarities between Millennials and Gen Z

Something both generations have in common is worrting about money.

Money worries are No1 reason for not falling at sleep for both generations.

60% of respondents say finances were the source of their anxiety at night.

This is exebarted by inflation, unstable health care access (especially in the US), and the aftermath of COVID as compounding factors.

20- and 30-somethings in the United States are burdened by financial woes and isolation, APA’s 2023 Stress in America report finds.

How lack of sleep affects our wellbeing

Millennials face unique challenges in maintaining healthy sleep patterns due to factors like technology and work stress. 

Sleep deprivation has profound effects on the brain, particularly when one stays up all night.

The brain functions in cycles of sleep and wakefulness, and disrupting these cycles can have significant consequences:

Decreased cognitive functions

Firstly, sleep deprivation impairs cognitive functions such as attention, concentration, and decision-making.

It affects the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for higher-level thinking and reasoning.

This impairment can lead to decreased productivity and increased risk of accidents.

Exacerbates mental health issues

Secondly, staying up all night can exacerbate emotional and mental health issues.

During Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, the brain processes emotional information. 

Adequate sleep facilitates this processing, while a lack of sleep can disrupt the consolidation of positive emotional content, affecting mood and emotional reactivity.

This disruption has been linked to an increased risk of mental health disorders, including the severity and risk of suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Sleep problems can be both a symptom and a cause of mental health issues, creating a complex interplay that necessitates a deeper understanding and attention to both sleep quality and mental health concerns.

Without enough sleep, the brain struggles to regulate emotions effectively, leading to increased irritability, anxiety, and mood fluctuations​.

Increases depressive symptoms

Furthermore, a consistent lack of sleep has been linked to future depressive symptoms.

A study by University College London found that a persistent lack of sleep could lead to the development of depressive symptoms over time.

This highlights the importance of regular and quality sleep in maintaining not only physical but also mental well-being.

How to improve sleep

To combat the adverse effects of poor sleep, Millennials and Gen Z can do the following:

Leave your phone in another room

It’s tempting to go on your phone, so keep it in a separate room at night. If you use your phone for a morning alarm, consider using an alarm clock instead.

Turn off push notifications

If you must have your phone in your bedroom at night, turn off push notifications and sound to avoid using your phone.

Reduce blue light exposure before bed

Reduce exposure to screens (phones, tablets, computers, TVs) at least 1 hour before bedtime. The blue light emitted by screens can interfere with the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Establish a regular sleep schedule

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help regulate the body’s internal clock and improve sleep quality.

Create a relaxing bedtime routine

Develop a calming pre-sleep routine, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practicing relaxation techniques. This helps signal to the body that it’s time to wind down.

Ensure the bedroom is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Consider using blackout curtains, eye masks, or earplugs if necessary.

Activities like yoga, meditation, or reading can help calm the mind and prepare the body for sleep.

Avoid caffeine after 1pm

Avoid caffeine after 1pm.

This  can disrupt sleep by causing discomfort or the need for nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Optimise sleep environment

Make the bedroom conducive to sleep by keeping it cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using blackout curtains, earplugs, or a white noise machine if necessary.

Evaluate and adjust sleep position

Experiment with different sleep positions and pillow arrangements to find the most comfortable and supportive setup. This can alleviate discomfort and improve sleep quality.

Incorporate physical activity

Engage in regular physical activity, but try to complete exercise sessions at least a few hours before bedtime. Exercise can promote better sleep, but intense workouts close to bedtime may have the opposite effect.

Seek professional help if needed

You can buy tablets or liquids (sometimes called sleeping aids) from a pharmacy that may help you sleep better.

Some contain natural ingredients such as valerian or lavender, while others contain an antihistamine.

They cannot cure insomnia but may help you sleep better for 1 to 2 weeks. They should not be taken for any longer.

Some of these products can have side effects, for instance, they may make you drowsy.

This could make it difficult for you to do certain things like drive.

If over the counter medicines don’t help, speak to your GP, who may refer you to a therapist for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

You may also be referred to a sleep clinic if you have symptoms of another sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea.

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Tanya

The first Millennial blogger in the UK. Twitter @_luckyattitude

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