Teens are known for staying up late and sleeping in. Whether you’re a teen yourself or you happen to live with one, you know that a teen’s relationship with sleep can be somewhat rocky. How much sleep do teens need, really?
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. But is this frustration warranted, and what steps should be taken to help a teenager adopt a healthier sleep schedule? Read on to learn just how much sleep teens need and why.
HOW MUCH SLEEP DO TEENS NEED?
There are different estimates for how long teens need to sleep each night, but the general consensus is 8-10 hours each night. The actual amount of time teens sleep on average is much lower, around seven hours each night. Only an estimated 15 percent of teenagers receive the amount of healthy sleep they need to function physically and mentally.
Along with higher sleep requirements, 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 p.m. Because most school have early start times, teens need to wake up early to get ready and go to school. This means that they can’t get the amount of sleep they need.
The different sleep schedules teens adopt during the week versus on weekends can also be harmful to their development. These irregular sleep patterns can damage teen’s biological clocks, leading to sleep deprivation and sleeping disorders.
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. The rapid changes of puberty require a lot of fuel. Along with having endless appetites, teenagers need a good amount of sleep to give their body the energy it needs.
Many teenagers also lead busy lives. School days require eight 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 can build up and put stress on their minds and bodies. Teens need good sleep to be able to perform adequately and recuperate from their hectic lifestyles.
One of the most notable changes that come with puberty is a shift in the circadian rhythm. Instead of getting tired around 9 p.m., teens often don’t get tired until 11 p.m. or later.
Because of the shift in the circadian rhythm, adolescents tend to function better in the afternoon and evening. School schedules are at odds adolescents’ internal clocks. Further, many tired teens use stimulants like caffeine to stay awake during school. This can make it more difficult for them to get to sleep when the time comes.
Not getting enough sleep can have serious consequences for young people. Their brains are still developing, and reducing the number 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
- Drowsy driving
- Difficulty learning
- Memory problems
- Increased likelihood to engage in risky behaviors
- Reduced problem-solving abilities
- Social withdrawal
OBSTACLES TO HEALTHY SLEEP
School is probably the single biggest demand on a teenager’s time. Along with the eight hours a day, five days a week time commitment in class, they also have to deal with several hours of homework each night. Ask any teen what their typical day looks like and you’re likely to hear that they’re at school from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., sometimes later depending on extracurriculars.
Many times, teens stay up late to message or hang out with their friends in real life or over social media. Teens spend nearly nine hours every day consuming media of various kinds, much of that time spent late at the night. There is a lot of peer pressure to keep up an online persona, posting pictures, answering comments and crafting a particular online representation.
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. Many teenagers want or need to work in order to bring in some income. 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. Add in the need to keep up a social life, and teens are under an enormous amount of social pressure.
How Teens Can Get More Sleep
Helping a teenager get enough sleep will help them rest and collect the mental fuel they need to develop properly. Here are some ways to make sure your teenager gets enough sleep.
Help Them Stay on a Consistent Schedule
Keeping a regular bedtime schedule throughout the week will prevent teens from developing irregular sleeping schedules. While it’s tempting for them sleep until noon on the weekend, doing so can make it harder to get back to a weekday schedule. It’s okay for them to sleep in a little bit, especially if school hours start very early in the morning. Just assist them in making sure it isn’t too much.
Encourage Them to Reduce Obligations
Is it really worth your teen being part of five clubs and two sports if it means they don’t get to sleep at night? There are some things your teenager might not be able to cut out, but see what you can do about helping them reduce their responsibilities. Wellbeing should be the most important obligation.
Coach Them to Take Shorter Naps
It’s common practice for teenagers to go straight to bed after school and nap for several hours. This can actually make it harder for them to stick to a regular sleeping schedule and makes them more tired than if they hadn’t napped at all. If they can’t avoid taking a nap, limit it to 30 minutes or less.
Help Them to Use Their Bed Only for Sleeping
If teenagers use their beds to do homework or message their friends, they are making it difficult for your brain to transition into sleep. They should make their bed a place strictly for sleep to make it easier to doze off when the time comes.
Tell Them to Turn Off Their Screen by 11 p.m.
Screens have been shown by several studies to interfere with our ability to sleep. 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 Later School 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 in time to get the recommended 8-10 hours of rest. Later start times have been shown to greatly reduce the teenage car crash rate and improve academic performance.
Help Your Teenager Get the Sleep They Need
Helping teens get more sleep will enable their bodies to store the energy they need to keep up with school and the physical changes they are going through at that 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.