Life for a teenager can, at times, be filled with difficulties and changes. It’s the time in their life when they go from being a child to being an adult, so it is obvious that there will be challenges along the way. A lack of quality sleeping time is one such challenge for many teens.
The National Sleep Foundation states that teenagers (adolescents ages 13-18) need between nine and nine and a half hours of sleep every night. However, some reports have suggested that as little as 15 percent of all teenagers achieve this on a regular basis. In fact, the average amount of sleep that teenagers get is between seven and seven and a quarter hour nightly. In other words, most of today’s teens are sleep deprived.
Why Are Teens Struggling to Get Sleep?
During sleep, important body functions and brain activity occur. It is well known that sleeping well and long enough helps keep your body and mind healthy and strong. So, what is causing teens to miss out on the quality sleep they so desperately need?
- The biological shift. In the teen years, you naturally experience a biological shift in your sleep patterns. The teenage body is naturally wired to want to stay up late at night and sleep in in the morning. Most teens may not feel tired enough to sleep before 11 p.m. Unfortunately, their busy lifestyle leaves little opportunity for them to sleep in most mornings.
- Full schedules. Between school, friends, sports, extracurriculars, part-time jobs, etc., it can be difficult for teens to find the time to get the amount of sleep they require.
- Early school start times. The natural sleep cycle of teenagers puts them in conflict with school start times, and most teens find it difficult to remain alert and pay attention in class. In Arizona, some high schools start as early as 7:00 am, meaning that some teenagers must get up as early as 5:00 am to get ready for and travel to school. Because they are sleep deprived, they remain sleepy throughout the day and struggle to perform at their best. Some states have adopted later bell times for high school students and found that enrollment and attendance improved, and students are more likely to be on time when school starts. Teachers at these schools’ report that teens are more alert in the morning and in better moods.
- Erratic sleep patterns. Though they may stick to a regular sleep schedule during the school week, teens typically stay up late and sleep in late on the weekends, which can affect their biological clocks and hurt the quality of their sleep.
- They suffer from a sleep disorder. It is not uncommon for a teenager to suffer from a sleep disorder such as narcolepsy, insomnia, restless legs syndrome or sleep apnea.
- They suffer from anxiety or depression. This can be like the chicken and the egg. What came first? The mood disorder or the sleep problems? It is well known that a lack of quality sleep can lead to a person developing a mood disorder. It is also well known that a mood disorder could cause a person to become sleep deprived or develop a sleep disorder. If your teen is depressed or overly anxious, we recommend you set them up with a counselor or doctor as soon as possible.
The Consequences of Sleep Deprivation in Teens
Sleep deprivation, when accompanied by the other daily challenges of being a teenager, can have negative consequences on their everyday life such as:
- Problems with behavior and mood. They may be irritable, cranky, and have inappropriate outbursts. Anger, impatience, and mood swings are other behavior problems. Sleep deprivation in teens may also lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior such as yelling at friends or being impatient with teachers or family members.
- Trouble with memory and concentration. They may forget important information like names, numbers, and homework.
- Struggling with cognitive tasks. Decision-making, reaction time, and creativity, all of which are important in school, are negatively impacted.
- Engage in risky activities. Sleep deprived teens are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors, such as drinking, driving fast, and engaging in other dangerous activities.
- Poor academic performance. Teens who get less sleep are more likely to get poor grades in school, fall asleep in school, and have more school tardiness/absences.
- Weight gain and obesity. Sleep deprivation can cause teens to overeat, especially unhealthy foods like sweets and fried foods that lead to weight gain.
- Skin problems. Lack of sleep can contribute to acne and other skin problems.
- Getting sick. Sleep helps to keep our body and mind healthy and strong. When your teen is not getting the sleep they need, they are at a greater risk for becoming sick.
- Drowsy driving. Teens have the highest risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. When a person is sleep deprived, they are as impaired as driving with a blood alcohol content of .08 percent. Studies show that drowsy driving incidents are most likely to occur in the middle of the night between 2:00 am and 4:00 am, and in the mid-afternoon between the hours of 3:00 pm and 4:00 pm. Right around the time teens are out of school.
5 Tips for Helping Your Teen Get Their Best Rest
Getting your teen the rest they need to be healthy and successful is achievable if certain steps are taken. Try the following tips:
- Make sleep a priority. Sleep is as important to your teen’s overall health as staying active, a balanced diet, and a happy home. Decide what you need to change in your teens schedule/activities to help them get more sleep. Having your teen keep a sleep diary may help you to better determine where their sleep troubles stem from.
- Establish a bedtime. Set a bed and wake-time and stick to it, even on the weekends. Maintaining a consistent sleep schedule will help your teens body to get in sync with its natural patterns so they will feel less tired. You will notice that your teen finds it easier to fall asleep at bedtime when they follow this kind of routine.
- Make the bedroom a sleep sanctuary. When it is time to sleep, keep the room cool, quiet and dark. If needed, get eyeshades or blackout curtains. In the morning, when it is time to wake up, let in bright light to signal to the body that it’s time to wake up. Also, keep electronics out of bed!
- Do not consume caffeine late in the day. Consuming caffeine close to bedtime can hurt sleep, so have your teen avoid coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate late in the day so they can get to sleep at night.
- Have a nightly routine. Doing the same things every night before they go to sleep, will teach your teens body the signals that it’s time for bed. They can take a bath or shower followed by reading a book or writing in a journal (which could help eliminate stress allowing them to sleep more soundly as well). Avoid strenuous exercise within a few hours of bedtime, a calming activity like yoga is okay. TV, computers, cell phones, and other electronics should be avoided within an hour of bedtime as they emit a blue light which simulates daylight tricking the brain into thinking it is time to be awake. Stick to calm, quiet activities to fall asleep more easily.
As a parent, you only want what’s best for your teen. One of the most important things you can do for the health of your teen is to make sure they are well rested. Follow the above tips and hopefully soon you will find your teen is getting quality sleep at night. If you suspect there is more to your teen’s sleep problems, they may benefit from a sleep study. Call the Valley Sleep Center at 480.830.3900 and schedule a sleep consultation at one of our five convenient Valley locations today.