The parent of every teenager will be able to relate – teens sleep a lot. Whether it’s Saturday and you’re hammering on their door at 11:50 AM or Tuesday after school and you’re waking them up from a nap, it may seem like much of their downtime is spent sleeping.
You may wonder, is it normal? Is it healthy?
Why do teens sleep so much?
According to an article published in the National Library of Medicine, “Teens need more sleep because they are in a time of very fast physical, intellectual and emotional growth.” To keep up with these changes their body, brain and mind are experiencing, they need more sleep than the majority of other age groups.
Unfortunately, the majority of teens simply do not get this amount of sleep every night.
A closer look at teen sleep patterns
Consider the general schedule of your average high school student. They need to be up early, usually well before 7 AM, to get out the door on time for school; they sit for approximately eight hours in various classes before returning home. Some don’t even go home after school, but instead head straight to an extracurricular activity or a part-time job.
Once they finally get home for the evening, they most likely have homework to complete, keeping them up well into the night. This repeated pattern of late nights and early mornings quickly puts them into a sleep debt that most try to compensate for by sleeping extended hours on the weekends.
Some parents may become frustrated at the fact that their teens simply will not go to bed earlier, but the truth is, the sleep drive of most teens does not indicate tiredness to their brain until approximately 11 PM. Additionally, melatonin – the sleep hormone – is not produced in the body until later in the day, keeping teens active until later hours.
The truth of the matter is most teens would get enough sleep each day if they could go to bed around 11-12 PM each night and wake up naturally around 8-or-9. But the school start times for most teens demand an earlier start to the day. The result? Compromised sleep to be on time.
Long story short, their inconsistent sleeping habits are hardly their fault.
The consequences of teen sleep problems
All of us have experienced the unpleasant consequences of not getting enough sleep. We feel more irritable and more emotional; we might lose all motivation to complete a task, or complete that task at the bare minimum; we have delayed reaction times and trouble concentrating.
For teens trying to keep up with the demands of high school classes, these consequences can be devastating.
Lack of sleep in teens can cause:
Increased mental fatigue, where their bandwidth for receiving and processing new information is significantly decreased – this can have a significantly negative effect on teens’ grades and academic performance
Decreased reaction time, meaning their responses to potentially dangerous situations, including driving, can cause severe risks to their safety
A higher risk for physical health problems, including a weakened immune system, trouble with hormone regulation and a greater propensity for physical injury
It cannot be stressed enough how appropriate sleep provides physical, mental and emotional benefits that can’t be overlooked.
How can I encourage a healthy sleep routine?
Sleep hygiene is vital for maintaining overall well-being. Thankfully, there are several strategies you can introduce to your teen to help them foster good sleep habits and, hopefully, learn the importance of prioritizing sleep for their entire lives.
Turn off electronics
Having a device in front of your eyes before bed is one of the surest ways to throw off your internal sleep/wake cycle. The blue light emitted from screens tells your brain it’s time to be awake, which confuses and dysregulates our natural cycles.
Turning off screens 30-60 minutes before bed is non-negotiable when establishing healthy sleeping habits.
Set a bedtime and awake time
Having a set time you go to sleep and wake up is important for everyone seeking to improve their sleep quality. Our bodies respond well to this routine and will begin naturally preparing our minds to go to sleep when the evening hours arrive.
Create an atmosphere
A cool, dark and quiet room might be the thing your teen needs to get a good night’s sleep. Minimize light in the room with light-blocking curtains; advise them to keep a ceiling fan on if they need a cooler temperature; use a white noise machine to create subtle background noise that blocks out other noises in the home.
Encourage a pre-bedtime routine
Routines like showering and skincare, pre-bedtime breathing exercises, journaling, straightening one’s room to be ready for the next day, etc. will indicate to the brain that it’s time to relax and start preparing for sleep. This will help teens fall asleep faster as they give their bodies the time they need to wind down and enter into a relaxed state of mind.