Why do teens have different sleep patterns from adults? Infamous for their mood swings, late nights and late starts, teenagers seem to despise getting up early, whether it’s for school or a summer job. While some see this attitude as a by-product of late nights or just laziness, sleep scientists are now denouncing these views, stating that teenagers actually do have different sleep requirements from adults and children.
Sleep research suggests that a teenager needs between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every night. This is more than the amount a child or an adult needs. Yet most adolescents only get about 6.5 – 7.5 hours of sleep per night, and some get less.
Sleep is an active state, which is thought to be important for restoration and recovery of the body, fighting infection, energy conservation, memory consolidation, brain development and discharge of emotions through dreaming.
Regularly not getting enough sleep leads to chronic sleep deprivation. This can have dramatic effects on a teenager’s life, impacting their mental wellbeing, increasing their risk of depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem. It can also affect academic performance at school.
What Causes Teenage Sleep Deprivation?
Insufficient sleep causes a teenager’s brain to become more active. An over-aroused brain is less able to fall asleep. Often, keeping active is valued more than sleep, so there are many reasons as to why many teenagers regularly do not get enough sleep.
Hormonal time shift
Puberty hormones shift the teenager’s body clock forward by about one or two hours, making them sleepier later. However, early school starts don’t allow them to sleep in. This nightly ‘sleep debt’ leads to chronic sleep deprivation. There’s no scientific finding as to why this shift occurs, but studies have found that a teenager’s sleep cycle often changes with the onset of puberty.
Smart phones and other devices used around bedtime reduce sleep time. A study has shown that teenagers who put down their smart-phones an hour before bed fain an extra 21 minutes sleep a night.
Homework, sports, part-time work, and social commitments can all cut into a teenager’s sleeping time.
The lure of stimulating entertainment such as television, computers, and gaming, can keep a teenager awake and out of bed.
Light cues the brain to stay awake. In the evening, lights from televisions, mobile phones and computers can prevent adequate production of melatonin, the brain chemical (neurotransmitter) responsible for sleep.
Various sleep disorders, such as restless legs, growing pains or sleep apnoea, can affect how much sleep a teenager gets.
Effects On Sleep
Lack of proper sleep leads to consequences teens already fight against such as increased risk for acne, inability to concentrate and problem solve, greater tendency for unhealthy eating, and aggressive or inappropriate behaviour.
Professor Alice Gregory highlights, “Our sleep changes throughout our lives in many different ways. When it comes to the amount of sleep that we need, this tends to decrease as we get older”. The developing brain of a teenager needs between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every night, which isn’t too dissimilar to adults (7-9 hours per night). The effects of chronic sleep deprivation may include:
- Concentration difficulties/shortened attention span
- Memory impairment
- Slower physical reflexes
- Reduced sporting and academic performance
Sleep Tips for Teenagers
The typical teenage brain wants to go to bed late and sleep late the following morning, which is usually hard to manage. You may be able to adjust your body clock, but it takes time.
Choose a relaxing routine like having a bath and hot chamomile tea before bed or use meditation or mindfulness activities. Do the same routine every night, to ensure that your brain associates this routine with going to sleep. Bedtime routines aren’t just for toddlers. Teens can benefit from having a regular routine every night. It’s a natural way of telling the body it’s time to turn in.
Avoid screens & stimulants
For at least an hour before bedtime, avoid computers, TV or smart phones, loud music, or any other activity that gets your mind racing. Don’t drink coffee, soft drinks, or energy drinks in the evenings.
Keep your bedroom dark at night. Your brain’s sleep-wake cycle is set off by light through the eyes. In the morning, exposure your eyes to lots of light to help wake up your brain.
Set up a regular wake-up time
Avoid staying up late on the weekends. Late nights will undo your hard work.
Get active during the day so you are more physically tired at night.
*DREEM TIP* Remember, even 30 minutes of extra sleep each night on a regular basis makes a big difference. However, it may take about six weeks of getting extra sleep before you feel the benefits.
Tips for Parents
It’s important to first understand that a teen’s approach to sleep is significantly linked to a change in their biological clock. Parents should use that understanding to help form strategies that will help teens get the sleep they need.
A teenager’s inability to go to sleep at a decent hour or desire to sleep later in the morning shouldn’t always be blamed on laziness or their tendency to go against a parent’s wishes.
Together, brainstorm ways to increase their nightly quota of sleep, including:
- Allow your child to sleep in on the weekends.
- Encourage an early night every Sunday. A late night on Sunday will make your child drowsy for the start of the school week.
- Decide together on appropriate time limits for any stimulating activity such as homework or screen time. Encourage restful activities during the evening, such as reading.
- Help your teenager build a better schedule for their after-school commitments, to free up time for rest and sleep.
- Assess your teenager’s weekly schedule together and see if they are overcommitted. Help them to trim activities if they are.
- Work together to adjust your teenager’s body clock. You may like to consult with your doctor first.