Teens & Sleep: Are They Getting Enough Sleep?

Adolescence is a truly special time period in everyone’s lives. It is a transition from a child to adult which is full of rapid changes in physical, cognitive, and emotional development. Sleep is essential for growth and development, and therefore sleep is key for the well-being of teenagers. Unfortunately, many teens do not get enough sleep, and many struggle to fall asleep quickly, we often hear parents complaining that “my teenager can’t sleep”.

Key takeaways:

Too little sleep can have a negative impact on teenagers’ physical and mental health, mood, and cognitive functioning and affect their daily functioning and overall well-being. Therefore, it's essential for teens to prioritize getting adequate sleep and for parents, educators, and healthcare providers to educate teens about sleep and clearly explain how vital sleep is for teens’ health and well-being.

Why is sleep particularly important for teens?

Sleep is one of the four pillars on which our overall health rests. Sleep is absolutely essential for the physical, mental, and cognitive health of every person, independent of their age. Sleep is particularly important for teens because it plays a crucial role in their physical and mental development.

During sleep, all the damage done to our body during the daytime is repaired. Muscles and bones and all other physiological systems, such as cardiovascular and immune, are restored, energy stores are refilled, which leads to improved physical health.

Adequate sleep is also crucial for optimal brain functioning, which is important for memory and learning, activities that hold such a big part in every teenagers’ lives. Especially important for teens, good quality sleep also balances out hormones.

Additionally, sufficient sleep can improve mood, increase focus and concentration, and reduce stress levels. All of these are critical for teens who are navigating the challenges of adolescence.

How long teens should sleep?

Teenagers usually require less sleep than children, but still should get more sleep than adults. The recommended amount of sleep for 14–16-year-old teenagers is 9–11 hours per night, and for 17–19-year-old teenagers 8–10 hours per night.

However, it is important to point out that sleep needs vary from person to person. This is partly due to genetics. Sleep needs also vary for the same person from one day to another depending on daily physical and cognitive activity, health status and sleep on previous nights.

It's important for teens to prioritize getting enough sleep each night to support their overall health and wellbeing.

Are teens sleeping enough?

Unfortunately, many teenagers are not getting enough sleep. For example, a 2009 National Sleep Foundation Poll reported that more than 87% of U.S. high school students obtain less than the recommended hours of sleep.

One of the most common causes for too little sleep in teenagers is the combination of their school schedule, namely early school start, and the fact that teen biological clocks are delayed.

During puberty, the circadian rhythm shifts, causing a delay in sleep hormone release, amongst other changes, which in turn delays the onset of sleepiness and a preference for later bedtimes.

Why do teens often have trouble sleeping?

Several reasons contribute to difficulty sleeping in teens, some of which are:

  • Changes in biological clocks. The circadian rhythm of teenagers shifts during puberty, making it difficult for them to fall asleep earlier in the evening.
  • Social and academic demands. Teens often have a lot going on in their lives, from homework and extracurricular activities to socializing with friends. This can make teens stay up late to finish homework or catch up with their friends.
  • Electronic Devices. Teens often spend a lot of time using electronic devices, such as smartphones and computers. Use of technology before bed can disrupt sleep patterns and make it difficult to fall and stay asleep due to their stimulating effects and emitted blue light.
  • Stress and anxiety. Adolescence is a time of increased stress and anxiety due to academic and social pressure. Stress is one of the worst enemies of good sleep and can make it challenging for teens to relax and fall asleep.
  • Poor sleep hygiene. Poor sleep habits, such as consuming caffeine or napping late in the day, can negatively impact sleep. This often happens when teens don’t get enough sleep during the night and end up drinking too much coffee or napping in the daytime.
  • Sleep disorders in teens. Teens can also experience sleep disorders, such as insomnia, sleep apnea, restless legs' syndrome, narcolepsy, or delayed sleep phase disorder that can interfere with their ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. If your teenager experiences continuous sleep problems for 1–3 months, consider contacting a medical doctor.

How to go to sleep faster as a teenager

Good news is that there is a lot you can do to improve your sleep. Here are some of the best tips on how to go to sleep faster as a teenager:

  • Stick to a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends, try not to deviate from these times by more than 30 min.
  • Prepare a sleeping environment. Make sure your bedroom environment supports sleep – it should be quiet, cool, and dark.
  • Reduce exposure to screens before bedtime. The stimulating effects and the blue light emitted by electronic devices can interfere with sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine and heavy meals before bedtime. It can make it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. If you feel hungry, opt for a light snack.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity is one of the best tools you can use to improve sleep quality and help you fall asleep faster.
  • Practice relaxation techniques. Stress is one of the worst enemies of good sleep, therefore relaxation techniques are truly powerful to help you sleep better. Try deep breathing, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, walks in nature, or listening to peaceful music to calm the mind and promote relaxation before bedtime.
  • Get sunlight early in the day. Natural light exposure during the day can help regulate your circadian rhythm and improve sleep quality.

How can parents help teens get better sleep?

Firstly, it is very important that teenagers themselves try to take care of their sleep. Additionally, support from loved ones can do a lot of good. Parents can teach and educate their teenagers about the importance of sleep and good sleep habits, and encourage their teenagers to keep up these habits.

It's important for parents to support their teens in developing healthy sleep habits, as adequate sleep is essential for their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Remember that a good example can go far – make sure to prioritize sleep yourself as a parent and have good sleep hygiene. The best way to teach is by setting a good example!

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