How Much Sleep Does Your Teenager Really Need?
Generally, the sleeping patterns of teenagers tend to be less regular than those of younger children or adults. A teenager’s biology and lifestyle habits can impact on the regularity of their sleep cycle. According to the Sleep Health Foundation Australia 90% of teenagers will go to bed later on weekends and then sleep-in the next day. Forty percent of these teenagers will go to bed more than 2 hours later than their weekday bedtime which can impact their chances of getting minimum 8 hours sleep on a school night. Consistency is an important aspect of healthy sleep routines at all ages, helping to strengthen circadian rhythms and ensuring sufficient time for sleep.
Sleep research suggests that a teenager needs between 9 and 10 hours of sleep every night. This is more than the amount a child or an adult needs. Yet, most adolescents only get about seven or eight hours of sleep at best, with some getting even less. Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis can lead to chronic sleep deprivation. This can have dramatic effects on a teenager’s life, including reduced academic performance at school. One recent US study found that lack of sleep was a common factor in teenagers who receive poor to average school marks.
Causes of sleep deprivation:
Some of the reasons why many teenagers regularly do not get enough sleep include:
- Hormonal time shift – puberty hormones shift the teenager’s body clock forward by about one or two hours, making them sleepier one to two hours later. Yet, while the teenager falls asleep later, early school starts don’t allow them to sleep in. This nightly ‘sleep debt’ leads to chronic sleep deprivation.
- Hectic after-school schedule – homework, sport, part-time work and social commitments can cut into a teenager’s sleeping time.
- Leisure activities – the lure of stimulating entertainment such as television, the Internet and computer gaming can keep a teenager out of bed.
- Vicious circle – insufficient sleep causes a teenager’s brain to become more active. An over-aroused brain is less able to fall asleep.
- Sleep disorder – sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnoea, can affect how much sleep a teenager gets.
- Anxiety or low mood – can impact the quality and amount of sleep a teenager can get and can be an underlying symptom of anxiety or depression
Impact of irregular sleep cycles on teenagers:
- Concentration difficulties
- Memory impairment
- Poor decision-making
- Lack of enthusiasm
- Moodiness and aggression
- Slower physical reflexes
- Reduced sporting performance
- Reduced academic performance
- Increased number of ‘sick days’ from school because of tiredness
Promoting Healthy Sleep – Tips for Parents
- Allow your child to sleep in on the weekends.
- Encourage an early night every Sunday. A late night on Sunday followed by an early Monday morning will make your child drowsy for the start of the school week.
- Decide together on appropriate time limits for any stimulating activity such as homework, television or computer games. Encourage restful activities during the evening, such as reading.
- Avoid early morning appointments, classes or training sessions for your child if possible.
- Help your child to better schedule their after-school commitments to free up time for rest and sleep.
- Assess your child’s weekly schedule together and see if they are over-committed. Help them to trim activities.
Promoting Healthy Sleep – tips for teenagers
The typical teenage brain wants to go to bed late and sleep late the following morning, which is usually hard to manage. You may be able to adjust your body clock but it takes time. Suggestions include:
- Choose a relaxing bedtime routine; for example, have a bath and a hot milky drink before bed.
- Avoid loud music, homework, computer games or any other activity that gets your mind racing for about an hour before bedtime.
- Switch your mobile phone, iPad or tablets off/ or keep them outside your bedroom so messages or social media notifications don’t keep you awake.
- Keep your room dark at night. The brain’s sleep–wake cycle is largely set by light received through the eyes. Try to avoid watching television right before bed.
- Do the same bedtime routine every night for at least four weeks to make your brain associate this routine with going to sleep.
- Avoid staying up late on the weekends. Late nights will make it hard to get up for school on Monday.
- Remember that even 30 minutes of extra sleep each night on a regular basis makes a big difference. However, it may take about six weeks of getting extra sleep before you feel the benefits.
Ongoing sleep issues such as difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or waking up tired chronically can be a sign of an underlying mood or anxiety disorder. If you feel that your teenager’s sleep difficulties are out of the ordinary and aren’t responding to making above changes then speak to your GP or give one of our friendly psychologists a call on (07) 33414619 to make an enquiry.