Teenagers need a lot of sleep, and most are not getting it. Understanding how teens' biological rhythms change and grow can help change that. The teenage years mark a time of change and growth. Growth is both physical, with growth spurts leaving kids in pants up to their calves overnight and constantly bumping into things, and emotional as they transition from childhood into mature thinking. All these changes require sleep. The brain and the body need to recuperate!
Teenagers require 8 to 10 hours each day to feel their best, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Some may need as little as 7 hours, while others may need as many as 11. These numbers are actually down from what they need at younger ages, but the effects of sleep deprivation, as well as the prevalence of kids who don't get enough sleep, are up.
The primary reason that teenagers do not get enough sleep is that they stay up too late, and they still have to arise each morning for school.
WHY TEENAGERS STAY UP SO LATE
There is actually a biological reason why teenagers are often up in the wee hours. Changing hormones cause their circadian rhythms to shift. Circadian rhythms make the body's internal clock and are responsible for feelings of tiredness and wakefulness. This biological clock works in harmony with the homeostatic drive. But messing with one wreaks havoc on our ability to sleep well, and that is just what happens with teens.
Teenagers tend to stay up late and wake up for school poorly rested. According to the National Sleep Foundation, only 15% of teens get the required amount of sleep on school nights. These teens continue to stay up late, due to the changes in their circadian rhythms. Smartphone use makes that even later. However, lack of sleep throws their homeostatic drive out of whack. They accumulate sleep debt throughout the week and crash out on the weekends, often sleeping in until mid-afternoon.
EFFECTS OF SLEEP DEPRIVATION IN TEENS
Teenagers might try to "make up" for lost sleep on the weekends, but our bodies just don't work that way. An hour of sleep lost cannot ever be retrieved. Instead, sleep deprivation causes all sorts of problems in teenagers.
The moodiness or exhaustion that parents often blame on puberty hormones might very well come from lack of sleep. It's hard to know which might be behind your teen's grumpiness or inability to focus, and it is most likely a combination of both. But sleep loss ends up magnifying what is already a challenging part of adolescence.
Not getting enough rest impacts kids' ability to focus and affects their academic performance. High school grades make a big difference in a child's future: they may decide where they go to college or whether they go at all. Academics aside, a sleep-deprived teenager just won't be able to focus enough to pursue whatever brings him joy.
IS YOUR TEEN SLEEPING TOO MUCH? WHY SLEEPING IN IS NOT A GOOD FIX
As mentioned, teenagers often crash out on the weekends, sleeping the days away. This is usually because they are completely exhausted and have wracked up a major sleep debt over the week. However, it is not helpful, and it could make things worse.
Here's the thing: our bodies operate on a biological sleep clock. Waking up at the same time each day is the best way to get back in sync with an appropriate sleep-wake cycle. Sleeping all day on a Sunday makes it harder to get to bed that night. Then, if a teen has to wake up for school on Monday, the amount of sleep she is getting before school is even smaller.
HELPING YOUR TEEN GET ENOUGH SLEEP
It's fine to let your teen rise an hour or two late on Saturday and Sundays, but try not to let them exceed that. Encourage physical activity, like sports, but be careful not to overwhelm your child, especially if she is struggling academically.
Electronics keep us awake because the blue light they emit prevents melatonin secretion. Plus, teenagers are naturally social. Consider banning screens an hour before bed.