Teenagers these days have ever-increasing demands being placed on them, from their rigorous class schedules to the necessary extracurricular activities needed to get accepted into a college of their choice. Combine high school start times of 7:00 am with the fact that teenagers’ body clocks lead them to stay up later than adults, and our teens are getting less sleep than ever.
The impact of sleep on our older kids’ lives is enormous, as you’ll soon find out. But there are plenty of ways to ensure that your teen gets the sleep they need to succeed, from screen time restrictions to fighting for later school bells.
Teens And Sleep: The Basics
Teenagers in the 14- to 18-year-old age range need 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night; however, only about 15% of teens report even getting 8 hours on an average school night. From 6th grade to 12th grade, the typical U.S. teenager sleeps about 90 minutes less as the years go by.
The reason for this increase in teens’ sleep needs is related to our biological clocks. During adolescence and puberty, the release of melatonin - our main sleepy hormone - is delayed until later in the 24-hour cycle of the day.
Generally, teenagers’ bodies don’t tell them they are ready to start winding down for sleep until around 11 pm. If high-schoolers are waking up at 6 am or earlier, 7 hours of sleep or less is all they will be getting for 5 days out of the week. If a student plays on a sports team, is involved with other extracurricular activities, or has a hefty amount of homework that night, they may be burning the midnight oil for hours after the rest of the family goes to sleep.
The Need For Quality Sleep
Not getting enough sleep can impact all aspects of a teen’s life, from school to social life to safety. At school, especially in the early morning classes, kids may be so tired that they barely retain any new information. If an exam is scheduled during this window, they’re at a serious disadvantage. Chronic sleep deprivation can last for more than just the mornings, meaning that any child involved in a sports team or after-school activity may perform poorly there, as well.
One interesting sleep study found that 10th graders who had an opportunity to nap at 8:30 am (equivalent to a 1st- or 2nd-period class in a normal high school) fell asleep quickly in under 5 minutes, with half of the students falling directly into REM sleep within 2 minutes, which indicates extreme fatigue. If students are that tired during the first couple of hours of the school day, their learning is severely impaired.
Teens’ health can also be affected by a lack of quality shuteye; this study showed that adolescents (between 9-17 years) could be at greater risk for obesity when sleep dips below 8 hours per night. Reasons for this increase in weight could either be related to a disruption in hormone production, or the fact that sleepy people tend to reach for sweets rather than smoothies.
Impaired immune systems are another consequence of poor sleep, meaning teens can get sick more often and miss more school. On another important aspect of health, a lack of sleep can lead to mental health concerns, like an increase in anxiety, depression, or aggressive behavior when sleep-deprived.
Lastly, a very dangerous side effect of not sleeping enough is the increase in car accidents when teens are driving drowsy. Combined with the fact that the majority of them are newly licensed, a sleepy teen behind the wheel can be as dangerous as one impaired by alcohol.
6 Ways Teens Can Get More Sleep
Delay The School Bells
First and foremost, a shift in school times is most important for helping teens get the adequate rest they need. If most adolescents are biologically incapable of going to bed at 9 pm, school systems should work towards honoring that.
Many schools all over the country have moved towards high school start times of 8:00 am or later, meaning that teens get the 8 hours of sleep they need to be functional and healthy during the day. Even delaying the start time of school by 30 minutes can lead to increased sleep, improved attendance, reduced tardiness, and better grades.
Use a Weighted Blanket
If your teen has trouble falling asleep at a reasonable hour, using a weighted blanket can help them get rejuvenating rest faster. Weighted blankets lead to an increase in natural melatonin production, which is helpful in the teenage years when melatonin is released later in the night. The extra weight can also provide a hug-like feeling of comfort and safety, which is perfect for a stressed out or anxious high schooler. Check out our latest post how weighted blankets help reduce stress and anxiety.
Stash the Smartphones
There’s no doubt about it that teens are addicted to their phones; some would likely stay up all night switching between the various apps and games if they could. Limiting screen time before bed could greatly benefit your teen’s sleeping habits. Whenever we look at screens before bed, no matter our age, the blue light that is emitted disrupts our melatonin production. In teens, that can mean that good quality sleep will be even further away. Two hours of screen-free time before bed is best to encourage optimal sleep. Going one step further and not allowing them to keep their phone in their room overnight would be even better, although your teen would likely put up a fight.
Keep it Consistent
An extra-sleepy teen may be inclined to sleep in later on weekends; however, these catch-up days don’t seem to give many benefits. When you wake up at 6 am on Friday and at noon on Saturday and Sunday, our biological clocks get disrupted even more - some researchers even compare it to jet lag. Not to mention, Monday mornings will be even more difficult if your teen slept in past lunch the day before. A little bit of catch-up sleep is fine, but trying to stay within an hour of the same wake-up time and bedtime as during the week can help their bodies to regulate melatonin better.
Teens Don’t Need Caffeine
It’s an endless cycle: sleepy people need coffee; coffee impacts sleep; people wake up sleepy, and so it goes on. Teenagers are especially sensitive to caffeine and should limit it, if they have any at all, to before noon. Whether it’s from coffee, Frappuccinos, energy drinks, or soda, caffeine should be monitored in your high-schooler and definitely not consumed during a late-night study sesh.
This tip applies to humans of all ages: when we’re better prepared in the morning, we can sleep a little bit later and feel less scattered or frazzled. A little bit of prep work, like making lunches ahead of time, picking out an outfit, and packing up the backpack can help your teen get a little more rest. Every minute counts!
Why Teenagers Need More Sleep
There are plenty of ways to ensure that your teen gets the sleep they need to succeed
Teenagers need 8-10 hours of sleep per night and rarely get it, due to delays in melatonin production during that age.
Poor sleep in teens leads to worse performance in school or sports, increased risk of being overweight and getting sick, and a dramatic increase in the risk of drowsy driving accidents.
Help your teen sleep better by limiting screen time and caffeine, using a weighted blanket for relaxation or sleeping, and pushing for later school start times.
Did you know?
Weighted blankets can increase the production of the happy hormone serotonin, which is in short supply in the brains of some teenagers. Pile on the weight and watch your teen perk up!