Teenagers and Sleep

How important is it for adolescents to get enough sleep? And exactly how much is "enough"? My son is trying to convince me that he has enough energy to handle late nights. I tend to disagree. My feeling is that sleep is critical during the teen years, especially with all of the physical changes kids are experiencing at that age. What do you think?

We’re on your side. The teen years are often fast-paced and packed with activities. School, sports, part-time jobs, church, and other involvements all conspire to overload teens’ schedules – and that doesn’t include socializing, which can sometimes continue long into the night. Add to this the physical changes that occur during adolescence, and it’s not hard to understand how teenagers might become shortchanged on sleep even under normal circumstances. There’s no call to aggravate the problem by “pushing them to the limit.” On the contrary, we’d suggest that adolescents need to take steps to make sure that they’re getting a healthy amount of sleep.

Just how much is that? It varies from person to person, but research suggests that the average teen needs at least 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep each night. Unfortunately, only about 15 percent of them are getting that much. About one fourth of the teen population gets 6.5 hours of sleep or less.

This situation is far from ideal for a number of reasons. It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that sleep deprivation lowers a person’s capacity for processing information. It should come as no surprise that inadequate sleep can hurt a student’s academic performance. Drowsiness at school is linked to lower grades. And sleepiness can lead to more tragic results when a teenager is behind the wheel. Young drivers (under age 25) are involved in more than half of the 100,000 automobile crashes every year directly related to fatigue, lapses in attention, and delayed response time associated with drowsiness.

It’s important to add that physical changes during adolescence can have effects on sleep and sleepiness. For many teens, daytime drowsiness increases even when they are able to get an optimal amount of sleep. Likewise, sleep patterns appear to shift later in the day, so that the typical high school student’s natural time for falling asleep moves back to 11:00 p.m. – or much later.

Adolescence is likely to be the time in which delayed sleep phase syndrome (or DSPS) first occurs. Sometimes known as “night owl syndrome,” DSPS involves a shift of the circadian or daily biological rhythm such that the affected person has difficulty falling asleep any earlier than from midnight to 3:00 a.m. He or she then has great difficulty awakening in the early morning. If allowed to sleep seven or eight hours, the person with DSPS feels perfectly refreshed and ready to work. Unfortunately for teens who fall into this category, high school classes usually begin by eight o’clock at the latest.

What can you do to help your son get the rest he needs? Here are a few helpful tips:

  1. Help your teen establish regular times for going to bed and getting up. When he deviates from his normal schedule (as on weekends), he should avoid delaying bedtime by more than an hour and waking more than two hours later than usual.
  2. Help your teen determine how much sleep he actually needs in order to feel refreshed and ready to start the day. Remember that this is different for each person.
  3. Getting into bright light as soon as possible in the morning and avoiding it in the evening is wise at any age. Light signals the brain that it’s time to be awake.
  4. Once your teen knows his body’s rhythm, he should try to adjust his schedule so that he is engaged in activities that are best suited to his level of alertness. In other words, he shouldn’t drive or attend lectures when he tends to be sleepy.
  5. Discourage the consumption of caffeine in the afternoon. It can interfere with nighttime sleeping patterns.
  6. Keep televisions, computers, and mobile devices out of your teen’s bedroom. Their late-night use is a regular cause of sleep loss for young people.
  7. Encourage your teen to relax and avoid stimulating activities before going to bed.
  8. Examine your own sleep habits and try to set a good example. Do you burn the candle at both ends and then fight drowsiness much of the time? If so, make whatever changes are necessary to model the healthy sleeping patterns you want your son to imitate.

If you need further information, feel free to get in touch with our Counseling department. We’d be pleased to assist you in any way we can.

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