Teen Sleep: What You Need to Know & How to Help

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night in order to function best. But, unfortunately, only about 15% of teens seem to be getting that much. Even worse, in a survey60% of children under the age of 18 complained of being tired during the day and 15% said they’d fallen asleep at school.

Feeling tired and dropping-off in class is bad enough but, sadly, the negative impacts of sleep deprivation among young people can be much more serious than that.

In a study of children ages 14 to 17, those who averaged 6.5 hours of sleep per night as opposed to 10 hours reported feeling more tense/anxious, angry/hostile, confused, and fatigued. The teens in the lower sleeping group also reported greater oppositional and irritable behavior along with poor emotional regulation. Indeed, the researchers found that after only a few days of shortened sleep, adolescents experienced increased confusion while also feeling more helpless, forgetful, exhausted, tense, angry, anxious, and “on edge.” The teens and their parents also noted that, when sleep-restricted, the youngsters were less capable of regulating their emotions, leading to outbursts and exaggerated responses to small stressors.

Previous studies with adolescents have also found that symptoms of anxiety and depression are positively correlated with sleep problems, short sleep on school nights, and bigger differences between school night and weekend sleep duration.

The journal Pediatrics similarly reports that adolescents who get less sleep than needed are at higher risk for depression, suicide, substance abuse, and car crashes.

Other negative impacts of diminished sleep can include:

  • Unhealthy eating choices and weight gain
  • School absences
  • Poor grades.

So how can parents help? And how can teens help themselves?

Easy Steps for More Teen Zzzzz’s

Many of us associate the teen years with late nights, last minute studying, weekends of sleeping until noon, and – these days –  screen time and social media. While we can’t always solve issues with school schedules, homework and devices, there are many ways that parents and teens can improve opportunities for quality sleep.

  1. Learn to recognize and appreciate the benefits of more sleep. To better see what’s going on, teens and parents can keep a journal of performance and feelings at school, at home, in sports, at work, and socially after good nights of sleep as compared to after nights of limited sleep. Research shows that we learn when we sleep and that grades and athletics  (including injury rates) benefit from quality rest.
  2. If your school district hasn’t switched to a later start for high school yet, learn more about the benefits and possibilities of later school starts and advocate if you’re convinced.
  3. Limit screen time in the bedroom and during at least the hour before bed. The blue light from electronic devices has been shown to negatively impact sleep and the ability to fall asleep. Create a charging area in the home that’s away from bedrooms and invest in old-fashioned alarm clocks so that no one is reliant on mobile phones or tablets to wake up in the morning. Too much to ask? Glasses and screen protectors that filter blue light can be an interim solution while everyone adjusts to less evening screen time.
  4. Promote advanced planning so homework assignments and studying aren’t left to the last minute. Students learn and retain more when they progress through reading and projects at a steady pace over the course of days (or weeks) as opposed to trying to cram the night before a deadline.
  5. Get regular exercise during the day. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service recommends at least 60 minutes of exercise every day for teens and reminds us that exercising outside in the daylight is good for healthy sleep patterns.
  6. Many experts prefer that teens abstain from caffeine entirely, but if that’s too hardcore for you or your family, aim for teens to stop all caffeine intake in the mid-afternoon (or, preferably, at lunchtime).
  7. Talk through things that are worrying. Teens and their friends and families are encouraged to discuss things that are concerning them in a manner that helps to “put the problems to bed” for the night. A journal and lists can also be helpful in this regard, as long as they are done in a way that reduces and does not increase stress. Focus on releasing and catharsis and keeping things in perspective.
  8. Recognize that it takes time. Falling asleep is not instantaneous and it’s alright if it takes a half-hour to fall asleep. Don’t stress. Changing patterns often requires gradual adjustments. The Ministry of Health in New Zealand recommends shifting to an earlier bedtime just 30 minutes at a time.
  9. Take a look at the bedroom. Make sure sleeping environments are dark, cool, and quiet. Move noisy and active pets, for instance, to another room. For more bedroom basics, visit our previous blog.
  10. Create soothing bedtime routines that help signal bedtime. Dim the lights, put devices “to sleep,” listen to soft music, read for pleasure, take a bath or shower, do some gentle yoga… whatever helps you and your family to softly close the day and transition to sleep.

Serious about sleep concerns in the teens, children or even adults in your family? If you’ve tried the home-care tips in this blog and in our previous blogs without success, we encourage you to seek the advice of your healthcare professional or a sleep therapist. He or she can discuss appropriate treatment options, such as cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia, after a thorough review of relevant medical and sleep history.

No matter your age, healthy sleep is important. Thanks for letting us help you get there.