Students who sleep less than seven hours a day have academic performance problems.
Teens love to label themselves “night owls,” trading stories of all-nighters and sleeping away an entire Saturday. Though teenagers and their sleep habits may be maddening to parents, they’re partly in response to physical changes that occur during puberty. “Teens experience a natural shift in circadian rhythm,” says Johns Hopkins sleep expert Laura Sterni, M.D.
With Alaska schools back in session in 9 days, the whirlwind of classes, clubs, athletics, jobs, friends and family can lead to a lot of sleepless nights and stressful days.
Teenagers are living life at full speed — growing, learning, studying, exploding with hormones, learning to drive, gaining autonomy and coping with daily pressure and stress. It turns out that they need more sleep than adults to stay healthy and safe – and cope with stress.
To learn more about why sleep is so important for teens and how parents can help them get the rest they need, we reached out to Janet K. Kennedy, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, founder of NYC Sleep Doctor and author of The Good Sleeper: The Essential Guide to Sleep for Your Baby (and You).
Why is sleep so important for teens?
Sleep is an essential bodily function for everyone. But for teens especially, it’s the body’s time to repair the damage of the day, regulate hormones, consolidate memory, solidify learning, and restore energy so they can wake up and do it all over again the next day.
What the recommended amount of sleep for teenagers?
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get 8-10 hours of sleep nightly. Most teens do not get this much sleep.
Are there certain hours that are optimal for a teen’s bedtime and wake time?
Teenagers’ body clocks are skewed later than that of children and adults. Some teens have trouble falling asleep before 11 (or even later), which makes it hard to get enough sleep and get to school on time.
How does lack of sleep add to a teen’s stress level?
Lack of sleep increases levels of adrenaline and cortisol, making us feel wired, edgy and stressed. That physical stress combines with the psychological stress of homework, social stress, over-scheduled extracurricular activities, pressure to perform, and looming responsibilities of adulthood that can feel overwhelming. And stress hormones make it harder to fall asleep, creating a cycle of sleep debt that is hard to break out of.
Are there other consequences for teens for not getting enough sleep?
Not getting enough sleep affects every aspect of a teenager’s life:
Poor memory and concentration leads to poor retention and performance at school.
Response time is impaired and car accidents are more likely.
Hormones triggering poor food choices and metabolic changes cause weight gain.
Irritability contributes to family and/or social conflict and can lead to more serious mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
Immune function is lowered and risk of colds or flu is increased.
Acne gets worse.
How can parents help set the stage for their teens to get a good night’s rest?
Parents can and should help teens develop good sleep habits:
Screens should be OFF and preferably out of the bedroom at least one hour before bed. This is important because screens keep kids (and us) plugged in to the day’s work and social activity. We have to train ourselves — and our kids — to unplug.
Phones, tablets and computers also emit blue light that suppresses the brain’s release of melatonin, delaying the body’s sleep signal. This is especially important for teenagers because their melatonin release is already on the late side. Delaying it further can cause insomnia and sleep deprivation.
Limit caffeine and eliminate super-caffeinated drinks designed to keep you awake. The body can take hours to metabolize caffeine. And even if someone is able to fall asleep after drinking caffeinated beverages, the stimulant effect interferes with deep sleep and makes sleep less restful.
No napping in the evening. Naps — and especially late naps — derail the body’s sleep clock, making it harder to get the consolidated nighttime sleep that is so important.
Don’t oversleep on weekends. Sleeping much later than normal and taking long naps on weekends makes it harder to get the sleep you need. The body works best when it has a consistent rhythm. A cycle of weekday sleep deprivation and weekend oversleeping keeps the body in a state of stress and fatigue.
As unpleasant as it sounds, it’s best to get up around the same time each day, even on weekends. It’s usually fine to sleep an hour later on weekends, but more than that can lead to Sunday night insomnia, setting up the cycle of sleep deprivation for another week.
The hardest part about being a family is that everyone is their own unique person. It is exactly how we were designed, but it doesn’t mean it is easy when everyone's at different life stages affecting their sleep cycles.