According to research, teenagers are not getting enough sleep to support this important stage of their growth and development.
We all know that getting enough sleep is essential for our physical and mental health. Sleep is our brain’s opportunity to process the day’s events, and to repair damage to our body. Good sleep allows us to think better, complete tasks more quickly and enjoy life more fully.
The amount of sleep each teenager needs is different, because every teen is different. However, it is generally thought that:
- children aged 3 to 9, need between 10 to 12 hours sleep a night;
- pre-teens and teenagers (10 to 18 year olds), need from eight up to 10 hours of sleep;
- adults need between 7-9 hours sleep each night.
Signs of Not Enough Sleep
Teenagers that are not getting enough sleep may be irritable, and have problems getting along with others. They may feel angry and impulsive, have mood swings, feel sad or depressed, or lack motivation. They also may have problems paying attention, which can result in poorer academic performance; and they are more likely to feel stressed and overwhelmed.
Sleep deprived teenagers may turn to stimulants to help themselves cope with tiredness. They may use energy drinks, coffee, nicotine, alcohol or even illicit drugs to help stay awake and focused. It is also likely that they will experience more physical illness, as sleep deficits can lower the immune system, making the body more susceptible to viruses.
So why is it so hard for teenagers to get enough sleep? Major factors include:
- Biology – It is well known that teenagers often prefer to stay up late, and get up late. Studies are starting to suggest that this isn’t because they are lazy or because they don’t want to sleep, but is in fact due to biology. Teenager’s brains appear to be hard-wired to prefer this late-to-bed, late-to-rise pattern. The reason behind this seems to involve melatonin which is produced later at night for teenagers, making it harder to fall asleep.
- Inconsistent sleeping patterns – Teenagers often go to sleep (and wake up) at inconsistent times. This inconsistency results in an unpredictable body clock which can result in a poor quality of sleep.
- Early start times – While teens may prefer to go to bed late and get up late, traditional school systems generally don’t support this approach. Often teenagers don’t get sleepy until after 11pm, but they still need to get up by 6am for the school day, which results in only 7 hours’ sleep.
- More demands on time – Adolescents often have a number of activities competing for their time, which can significantly reduce the time available to sleep.
- Too much exposure to electronic devices – Using electronic devices (such as an iPad, iPhone, Xbox, or computer) 2-3 hours before bedtime have all been associated with increased sleep problems in teens.
Teenagers and Sleep: What You Can Do
If you are worried about your teenager, and wondering what you can do to help them get a good night’s sleep, here are some suggestions:
- Work with your teen to try to establish set sleep and wake times – and encourage them to stick to this schedule even on weekends/holidays. By sticking to a routine, your child’s body will eventually get in sync with its natural patterns.
- Establish a sleeping environment that is conducive to sleep. Ensure your child’s bedroom is not too hot, the light is minimised, and it is quiet.
- Remove all electronic devices from the bedroom! Lights from computers and TVs interfere with sleep, and teens can be tempted to stay up all night rather than sleep.
- Encourage your child to stop drinking caffeinated drinks (coffee, energy drinks, cola) by 4pm. Drinking alcohol late in the evening can also result in restless sleep.
- Don’t let your child nap too much as this can interfere with the sleep routine.
- Help your teen to develop a bedtime routine to help them wind down. For example, they might want to do quiet soothing activities before bed such as reading, or have a warm bath.
If your teen is struggling to get enough sleep and this is starting to cause problems for them at home, work or school, please consider booking an appointment with me. By working together we may be able to identify the underlying causes for your teen’s sleep problems and find ways to resolve the issue.
Author: Ashley Cooper, B Psych (Hons), M Psych (Clinical), MAPS.
Brisbane Psychologist Ashley Cooper has clinical psychology training, and works with teenagers, adults and children. She is passionate about helping individuals to overcome their mental health issues and improve their quality of life.
To make an appointment with Ashley Cooper try Online Booking – Mt Gravatt or call (07) 3088 5422.