Many teenagers are tired and lethargic in the morning even after what most adults would consider a full night of sleep. If left undisturbed and without an alarm, often, teenagers will sleep late for nine to eleven hours before needing to get up. Even though most prefer to stay in bed for extended periods, recent studies show many are likely sleep-deprived. How does this happen when they seem to like being asleep so much? Why do adolescents sleep so much when unbothered? Do they actually require more sleep for growth and brain functioning? Or do they just want to sleep more because they are lazy? How much sleep do teens need and how can we better help ensure they get it? Let’s find out!
How much sleep is recommended for a teenager?
Eight to ten hours of sleep is recommended for the average teenager. Some studies indicate that nine hours and 15 minutes could be the magic amount of sleep for teens. It allows them to function at their highest potential without being tired.
Teens are still developing mentally and physically. As a result, sleep is highly valuable for teens, even more so than adults. While they undergo the second stage of developmental cognitive maturation, adolescents require more sleep than they previously did as children. They use it to facilitate the natural healthy growth experienced in adolescence while simultaneously supporting better brain development and advanced functioning.
Even though sleep deprivation can be detrimental to teens’ health, as many as 85% still get less than eight hours of sleep per night.
Why are teens sleep-deprived?
Recent studies have shown that many teenagers are sleep-deprived and that statistically, as little as 15% are getting the amount of sleep they actually need. Teenage sleep deprivation statistics have led to further exploration and understanding of the topic. There are several reasons teens regularly experience sleep deprivation:
1. Internal clock after puberty
As a child, you become accustomed to going to sleep at night earlier than adults and it feels natural. After puberty, this biologically changes with a shift in your internal clock by approximately two hours. The shift is called the sleep phase delay. It causes you to naturally become sleepy two hours later than normal, and as a response, wake two hours later. For most teens, this places their natural bedtime around 11:00 PM. Your circadian rhythm shifts and your body does not want to go to sleep early anymore. So, you fall asleep late. But as you will see with the next point, that is rarely an option.
2. High school starts early
When entering high school, it is common to have earlier start times than you did in middle school. You most likely experienced this when transitioning from elementary to middle school as well. The change can be abrupt for many teens and it takes a while to grow accustomed to it. Many high schools start as early as 7:00 AM. And, this means adolescents are waking up as early as 5:00 AM to get ready for school. This also means that for them to get the ideal amount of sleep, they would have to go to bed at 7:45 PM. But let’s face it, that is never going to happen.
3. Extracurricular activities
All academic ventures outside of regular school period require extra time and effort that detracts from other activities, even going to bed at night. Balancing extracurricular activities with homework can be difficult for many teens. There are days when these adolescents just can’t get enough sufficient sleep while being highly involved in their academic career.
4. Social exploration
When you first start high school, there are a lot of changes. You are exposed to new people and things regularly. High school is a time of social exploration for many adolescents, even though it is not always pleasant for all. While you change from childhood into a young adult, you begin to have more social outlets which often leads to more social obligations. Teens want to hang out with their friends and it takes a while. This time will happily be subtracted from the time allotted for sleep without any regrets. This then leads to sleep deprivation in many adolescents.
Many states allow you to obtain your first job with a work permit at the age of fifteen. As a result, teens will get a job which also takes a significant amount of time. Add this to their other academic and social obligations, and sufficient sleep often gets overlooked. Some adolescents want the independence and freedom afforded by having a paying job. It is up to them to balance their schedules accordingly. For other teenagers whose families are part of the lower class, it is not an option. Instead, it is required by the family to help make ends meet. Without additional income, they would suffer in other ways.
6. Helping with siblings
Helping to look after siblings can also subtract time from teens’ sleep schedules. Childcare is expensive. And, many families cannot afford to pay a babysitter or nanny. A family might not get one especially when there are other older siblings who can help and be responsible. In many cases, adolescents are also expected to help younger siblings with homework. This takes time away from their own studies.
All of these reasons combined can make teens’ lives very busy and hectic. Even though these things are important, adolescents must also prioritize sleep. They need it to be healthy and functional at the highest level. Proper sleep is the foundation that allows teenagers to fulfill all of their obligations.
What negative side effects do teens experience when they are sleep-deprived?
Teens and adults experience the same negative side effects from sleep deprivation. With teens, the consequences can be greater. In some cases, it is because they lack the lifelong acquired skill of good decision-making. Some of the negative side effects include:
1. Bad and fluctuating mood
Not having enough sleep can cause a teenager to be cranky, rude, aggressive, antisocial, hyperactive, or grumpy. It depends on the adolescent and depends on the moment you encounter them. Without enough rest, it is hard to maintain a stable mood. This can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts.
2. Offensive behaviour
As mentioned before, teens do not always display the best decision-making skills because they are inexperienced. When sleep deprivation plays a factor, adolescents are even more likely to make bad decisions and behave erratically. Emotional health is impaired. Anger is more prevalent when a sleep-deprived person is tired, this is no exception for an adolescent.
3. Poor food choices
When a person is tired, it is easy to choose to eat unhealthy foods that are easily accessible. Unless parents are cooking for a teen or making their dietary decisions for them, they will most times, choose fatty foods. When sleep-deprived, that can lead to future health problems like excessive weight gain down the road.
4. Breakouts and acne irritation
Lack of sleep can cause acne to become worse. It can cause more pimples and breakouts than normal for a teenager. Without enough rest, your body does not have the energy it needs to heal health issues exactly like this. It has to prioritize and divert energy to other common brain functions like cognition.
5. Impaired cognitive ability
Without the proper amount of rest, you cannot maintain regular brain functioning capabilities. Often, your memory, creativity, reaction time, and attention span are compromised as a result. For teens, who require more rest than adults, this is especially exemplified. They need more rest at night to maintain mental health and be alert in class.
6. Impaired driving
Driving capabilities decrease right alongside cognitive abilities when considering sleep deprivation. Driving while tired or drowsy is extremely dangerous. They should stay away at all costs. Teens may try to push through drowsiness. But, operating a vehicle should not be considered when a teenager is tired.
7. Poor performance in school and work
Academic and work performance decreases with sleep deprivation as well. Many sleep-deprived students have cannot stay awake in class. There are times they inappropriately fall asleep at their desks. Without full cognitive abilities to use, it is hard to concentrate and perform at the same level possible when an adolescent or adult has had enough sleep. For teens, this is particularly important as they set the foundation for their education. Their future life’s success is rooted in and relies upon their education.
What are some useful tips to help ensure teens get enough sleep?
As mentioned before, it is not always easy for teenagers to make sure they get enough rest. There are ways to help move an adolescent in the right direction though. Let’s take a look.
1. Commit to a regular sleep schedule
Attempting to set a consistent sleep schedule may be difficult but it should be seriously considered. It allows a teen to get the recommended amount of sleep. The plan should ensure the adolescent is going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. This will help to guarantee the most restful and healthy sleep in the long run. The most difficult aspect for parents will undoubtedly be getting an adolescent to follow through with the plan.
2. Take naps in the early afternoon
Short naps in the early afternoon, probably after school, can be rejuvenating. It can also be helpful for teenagers who feel sleep-deprived. Parents are recommended to give adolescents a nap of 15-25 minutes to achieve the desired effects and effectively use the time to reset.
3. Do not oversleep on the weekends
While this can be very tempting for teens without other obligations, it is not always as healthy as you might think. Catching up on rest can be good for an adolescent but only to a certain point. Sleeping late at night on Sunday, in particular, will make it harder for an adolescent to go to bed at the appropriate time that evening. It will, in turn, cause them to be tired on Monday morning for school. Often, it is best for parents to try and maintain the schedule over the weekend so as to maintain any progress made.
4. Turn off all electronics
The stimulating nature of television, video games, smartphones, and the internet will keep a teen awake. The bright lights from the screen will also contribute to making it difficult to fall asleep when the time comes. It is recommended that all electronics be turned off about an hour before bedtime, or more if possible, to help an adolescent fall asleep more easily.
5. Do not eat or exercise before bedtime
Both exercising and eating causes your body to work hard to recover or digest food which can keep you awake. You may be able to sleep after, but it is recommended you wait a minimum of two hours. This is so that you get a restful and healthy deep sleep. For exercising, waiting as long as four hours to nap after a workout is recommended by some.
6. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants
Use of any kind of stimulant, like caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, or certain drugs will make it difficult to sleep. This is because they are specifically designed to do the opposite, keep you awake. Aside from caffeine, all of the other stimulants should be avoided entirely by teens. There are many factors that contribute to the way our bodies process stimulants. But for adolescents who drink caffeine, it is recommended that they do not have any past noon. This helps ensure their sleep patterns will not be negatively affected.
7. Advocate for later start times for high school students
Some school districts have experimented with this option and they experienced positive results. Schools that suited the natural circadian rhythm of teens and started later saw improvements in students’ grades. Other results include: less tardiness, better attendance overall, fewer sick days, students in better moods than normal, less counselor and nurse visits during the school period, and car accidents among adolescents drastically decreased. This is not an option for everyone but there is only so much that can be done on an individual basis. So, this should be considered.
How much sleep do teens need?
In conclusion, there are many factors contributing to the sleep patterns of teens which can lead to sleep deprivation. It is important for adolescents to prioritize sleep in their schedules. Teenagers should ensure they are giving themselves the best opportunity for success, growth, and brain functioning throughout their developmental years by getting eight to ten hours of sleep each night.