Sleep Deprivation In Teens

Girl sleeping with her head on a white pillow.

How Much Sleep Do Teens Need?

Let me take a wild guess, you have already been in bed for hours before you are woken up by the sounds of your teenager heading up to bed. With school starting in a matter of hours, how can that be enough sleep?

With all of the modern day interruptions between social media and video games, do teenagers sleep enough? And do they suffer from sleep deprivation?

Teenagers and Sleep: The Facts

The National Sleep Foundation provides us with several important facts about bedtime that affect teens and adults alike.

  • It is as important to the body as air, water, and food
  • It can help manage the stress of being a teenager
  • Biologically, the sleep patterns for teenagers shifts to later hours and later waking hours
  • Teenagers need at least 8 hours each night to properly function
  • The majority of teens do not get what is considered to be enough shuteye
  • The irregular sleep patterns of teens, varying from weeknights to weekend nights, impacts their biological clock and damages their sleep hygiene
  • A lot of teens suffer from sleep disorders that are treatable, such as sleep apnea and narcolepsy

It is common for teens to have a pattern of sleeping very little during the week, and then using the weekend to compensate for the lack of it by hibernating for the better half of the day. However, a lot of teens accumulate so much sleep debt that they are not able to fully recover on the weekend, so they still wake up tired on Monday morning. If your teen does not get adequate rest, it can harm their health in a few ways, such as:

  • Limit concentration in school
  • Damage memory
  • Harm problem-solving abilities
  • Hinder learning
  • Lead to skin breakouts
  • Lead to poor eating habits
  • Cause aggressive behavior and depression
  • Contribute to illness

Why do their preferred hours of sleep change once they are teenagers?

According to How Sleep Works, everyone’s sleep-wake cycle is regulated by two mechanisms in the body, the circadian rhythm and sleep-wake homeostasis. These two processes interact with each other to determine when someone sleeps.

These processes have several factors affecting them, including:

  • Genes
  • Diet
  • Drugs
  • Stress
  • Exercise
  • Daily Schedule
  • Teenage Hormones
  • Brain Wave Activity
  • and…AGE!
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Our circadian rhythms dip and rise at various times of the day, with an average adult’s strongest urge to close their eyes occurring between 1-3 pm and 2-4 am. However, this is different for teenagers.

Changes to circadian rhythm happen during adolescence, resulting in a sleep phase delay. This delay in the circadian rhythm results in teens naturally feeling more alert late at night, which makes it hard for them to get any sleep before 11 pm.

Unlike adults, a teen’s circadian rhythm typically has them tired between 3-7 am and 2-5 pm. However, if the teen is deprived of sleep, their 3-7 dip is likely to last until well after 7 am.

This causes a problem when teens have to wake up early for school, sound familiar?

Stanford Medicine published an article saying that about 87% of high school students do not get the recommended amount of sleep, and the amount that teens are getting continues to decrease. This means that hardly anyone is performing at their best, be it in sports, in school, or while driving.

Aside from a shifting circadian rhythm, what else keeps teenagers from sleeping?

As you are well aware of, there are both social and cultural factors that can impede a teenager’s desire to go to bed. With the emergence of new technologies, teens often get wrapped up staring at a screen, participating in social media.

Not only can this make an adolescent lose track of time, it also exposes them to the sleep-altering blue light that decreases their production of melatonin. Studies done at Harvard University have revealed that exposure to blue light can suppress melatonin production double as much as exposure to other lights.

What does this mean? Anyone who wants to get a good night’s rest needs to stop watching television or interacting on their computer several hours prior to going to bed.

Clearly, teens are influenced by forms of social entertainment to stay up at night. However, the pressure on teenagers to succeed in school and sports is intense, and the competition for college slots is increasing.

The American Psychological Association reminds us that in our days of high-achieving teenagers, students are stressed with additional homework, Advanced Placement classes, extra-curricular activities, and often part-time jobs, in addition to community, peer, and parental pressures to be successful and get into college.

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How can you help as a parent?

Teenagers are entering the period in their lives where they are craving independence and autonomy. Among other decisions that they want to be able to make on their own, doesn’t it make sense that their bedtime is one of them?

However, according to Stanford Medicine, studies show that adolescents are often in a better mood and their fatigue levels are lower if the parents set a bedtime that is realistic for their teen’s needs. So, while this may not be 8 pm, it is best to not make it past 11 pm either.

So, does the early bird get the worm? Not in the case of teens.

Many articles, including one published in the New York Times, speaks about the plethora of dangers and health risks that come along with teenage sleep deprivation.

However, the country is starting to accommodate. While still in its early stages of this movement, schools in Kentucky, Virginia, and Connecticut have all pushed back the start time of school to let their students get their much-needed rest.

And guess what? Their performance in school is increasing, as is their attendance.

Conclusion

Back to the question. Does your teenager sleep enough? Probably not.

This is an epidemic among American teens that is very difficult to have an umbrella fix for between schedules, sleep-wake cycles, and circadian rhythms. Set a reasonable structure in your household that everyone can agree upon so you can make sure that your teen is getting as much shut-eye as possible. That is the best you can do.

Could adequate sleep give your child a better chance at getting that college acceptance letter than submitting a sleep-deprived personal statement? Definitely.

Just remember, you are in good company if you feel your teenager is not getting enough rest. Keep yourself aware of the issue and monitor it as best as you can. That’s all you can do.

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Mom, writer and editor for ParentingMonkey.com. Jo loves researching and passing on what she has learnt, both the good and the bad. She lives with her husband, two kids and “the dog”.