Teens are known for staying up late, getting up early, and sleeping in on the weekends. Whether you’re a teen yourself or you happen to live with one, your relationship with sleep can be somewhat rocky. Parents can get frustrated that their teens are sleeping all the time, or not sleeping enough, especially if they have specific schedules in mind for their children.
However, because of where they are in their biological development, they actually need more sleep than adults.
How Many Hours of Sleep Do Teens Need?
There are different estimates for how long teens need to sleep each night. Some estimates are as precise as 9-9.5 hours, while others say they just need 8-10 hours each night. The actual amount of sleep they get is typically much lower, around 7 hours each night. Only an estimated 15% of teenagers get the amount of sleep they need to function physically and mentally.
Along with needing more sleep, teens tend to have a shift in their natural sleep cycle. It’s not unusual for a teenager to not to be able to fall asleep until 11 PM. However, with earlier school schedules, this often means they don’t get the amount of sleep they need.
Differing sleep schedules during the week and over weekends can be harmful to their development. These irregular sleep patterns can damage their biological clocks, making it difficult to sleep when they need to, and lead to sleep deprivation.
Why Do Teens Need So Much Sleep?
Teens need a significant amount of sleep because their bodies and minds are going through important developmental stages that require a lot of energy. Think about teens seemingly growing an inch overnight or rapidly changing body shape in a short period of time. Those fast changes require a lot of fuel. Along with having seemingly endless appetites, teenagers need a good amount of sleep to give their body the mental energy it needs.
Many teenagers also have a busy life. School days require 8 hours of intensive mental focus, and on top of that they also have to worry about homework, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and social and family obligations. All of those demands on the lives of our youths can build up and put stress on their minds and bodies. Teens desperately need good sleep to be able to perform adequately in their daily lives.
Puberty is a difficult time for anyone to go through. One of the most notable changes that comes from puberty is a shift in the circadian rhythm. Instead of getting tired around 9pm, teens often don’t get tired until 11pm or later. In order to try to cope with this change, many teenagers might turn to caffeinated drinks to stay awake during school. However, this can make it more difficult for them to get to sleep when the time comes.
Because of the shift in the circadian rhythm, adolescents tend to function better in the afternoon and evening. This makes typical school schedules difficult, as they are at odds with the times adolescent bodies are naturally drawn to.
Not getting enough sleep can have serious consequences for these young people. Their brains are still developing, and since sleep is one of the most essential times for brain activity, reducing the amount of hours in bed can hinder neurological development. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are subject to some of the following issues:
- Decreased focus
- Difficulty learning
- Memory problems
- More likely to try risky behaviors
- Problem solving abilities reduced
- Social withdrawal
Obstacles That Make it Difficult to Get Needed Sleep
With all of the demands on the time of our youth, it stands to reason that there are many things which can interfere with getting enough sleep. Here are some of the most common.
School is probably the single biggest demand on a teenager’s time. Along with the 8 hours kids are expected to attend five days a week, they also have to deal with several hours of homework each night.
Teens who are in honors or special placement programs usually have to keep up with more school work and extracurricular activities than the average teen. Ask any of them what their typical day at school looks like and you’re likely to hear that they’re at school from 6 am to 5 pm, sometimes later depending on what extracurriculars they are involved in. Many of them aren’t able to start on their assignments for the day until after they get home.
Friends and Peer Pressure
Going along with what friends want you to do is a large part of the teenage experience. Many times, teens stay up late to message or hang out with their friends. Depending on who their friends are, they might be pressured to make decisions that will have a negative impact on their ability to sleep. These decisions can include drinking, drugs, or engaging in risky or illegal behavior.
Most of the time, if any of them were to say to their friends, “I can’t, I have to make sure I get to bed on time”, their friends would laugh or make fun of them.
Most teenagers are also under a lot of social pressure. Teachers and parents expect them to keep up with schoolwork. Many parents want their teens to be involved in sports teams, clubs, band or orchestra, and other after school activities that might make them more attractive college candidates. Sometimes parents can get competitive and pressure their children into doing activities that the teen themself might not even want to do.
Many teenagers want or need to work a job in order to bring in some income. Some just want to have the extra spending money, while others might need to work to help support their family. Depending on the community they live in, not having a job can be seen as lazy or unproductive even if school demands most of their time.
How to Get More Sleep
It’s not enough to know that you or your teen needs more sleep. Knowing how to get enough will help teens get the rest and mental fuel they need to develop properly. Here are some ways that will help teenagers get the amount of sleep they need.
Stay on a Consistent Schedule
Keeping a regular sleeping schedule throughout the week will help teens stay away from sleep debt or irregular sleeping schedules. While it’s tempting to sleep until noon on the weekend, doing so can make it harder to get back to a weekday schedule. It’s okay to sleep in a little bit, especially if school hours start early in the morning. Just make sure it isn’t too much.
If you are having a hard time getting enough sleep because you have too many commitments, try to see what you can go without. Is it really worth being part of five clubs if it means you don’t get to sleep at night? There are some things you might not be able to cut out, but see what you can do about reducing your responsibilities.
Take Shorter Naps
Many teens will go straight to bed after school and nap for several hours. This can actually make it harder for you to stick to regular sleeping schedules, and makes you more tired than if you hadn’t napped at all. If you can’t avoid taking a nap, limit it to 30 minutes or less.
Use Your Bed Only for Sleeping
If you use your bed to do homework or message your friends, you’re making it difficult for your brain to transition into sleep. Making your bed a place strictly for sleep will make it easier to doze off when the time comes.
Turn Off Your Screen by 11pm
Screens have been shown by several studies to interfere with our ability to sleep. It’s easy to keep using your phone if you want to keep up with friends or make them feel like you aren’t ignoring them. However, staying on your screen for too long can trick your brain into thinking it’s still daytime, making it difficult to fall asleep until the early hours of the morning.
Advocate for Late Start
Teen brains actually function better when they’re able to go to school later. Because of the shift in teenage sleep and wake patterns, teenagers have a harder time falling asleep before 11pm. Later start times have been shown to greatly reduce the teenage crash rate and improve academic performance.
Helping teens get more sleep will enable their bodies to store the energy they need to keep up with school and make the physical changes appropriate to their age. While this can feel challenging when you have to take school and other obligations into mind, finding a schedule that works around your teen’s biological needs and helping them get more sleep will make everyone a little happier.