Teenagers have many demands that need to be balanced on their schedules. Between school, homework, socializing and extracurricular activities, it can be difficult for a teen to get the recommended 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep each night.
Contrary to popular belief, teenagers commonly experience late bedtimes not because of their busy schedule, but due to the onset of puberty. Adolescents experience a delay in the sleep phase of their body clock and the timing of the release of the sleep-related hormone melatonin. This leads teens to be more likely to fall asleep later at night and acquire the preference to awaken later in the morning. Many teenagers find it difficult to wake up for school, and many factors contribute to sleep deprivation among adolescents.
- Excessive daytime fatigue, inattention, tardiness
- Irritability, depression, low self-esteems, hyperactivity, mood swings, frustration, and impulsivity
- Failing grades or reports of driving drowsy
Some of the signs of sleep deprivation in teenagers include:
Excessive daytime sleepiness can make it more difficult for a teenager to learn, as it can impair memory and inhibit creativity. Concentration may be more difficult, as well, making it dangerous to drive a vehicle.
Lack of sleep affects many bodily functions, such as metabolism, the immune and cardiovascular systems, as well as reducing quality of life. Sleep-deprived teens may also suffer from depression and have difficulty regulating stress and emotions. Sleep-deprived teens are also at higher risk of abusing drugs, developing hypertension, or gaining weight.
A recent study showed that teens that sleep fewer than eight hours per night are more likely to engage in the following behaviors: smoking, drinking, spending more than three hours per day on the computer, more likely to be sexually active, feeling depressed, and not exercising regularly.
A teen that is too busy fulfill their school, extracurricular, and work obligations may have to prioritize the more important activities and cut down on others so sleep becomes a priority. Teenagers should also make sure to practice healthy sleep habits and keep their bedrooms a soothing sleep environment. It is best to leave a TV out of the bedroom to ensure better quality sleep, as well.
Some tips for teens with sleep issues:
- Get adequate sleep - Teens need about 9 hours of sleep on average in order to be fully alert during the daytime. Although it is difficult for teens to get enough sleep due to school, in addition to the other demands on their time, it is possible. Many teens try to catch up on lost sleep during the weekends, but a better option is to keep a regular sleep/wake schedule for all days of the week.
- Take naps - A 20-30 minute nap in the early afternoon can be a good way to rejuvenate. However, naps should not be too long or too late in the afternoon so they don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
- Exercise regularly - A regular exercise schedule of about 30-60 minutes at least four times a week can do wonders for both fitness and sleep hygiene. However, exercising in the morning or afternoon rather than evening is most effective so the body has adequate time to wind down for sleep.
- Limit caffeine - Caffeine-containing products such as coffee, soda, and chocolate should be avoided within 6 hours of bedtime, as they can disrupt sleep.
- Don’t go to bed hungry - By eating a light snack, you can go to sleep more easily. Don’t eat too much, though, as a large meal within one to two hours of bedtime can interfere with sleep and make you uncomfortable. A proper diet can aid in overall health, so make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains and lean protein. Eating breakfast is important to start the day off right and have enough energy, and it also curbs binging later in the day.
- Don’t smoke or drink - Nicotine and alcohol should be avoided for health reasons, but also because they interfere with sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant, and although alcohol can help with the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep as it is being metabolized.
- Relax before bedtime - Set aside up to one hour of quiet time before going to sleep every night. This can include calm and enjoyable activities such as reading, listening to calm music and relaxing. Avoid watching TV, playing video games, exercising or studying.
- Make the bedroom a sleep sanctuary - The bedroom should be quiet, comfortable, cool and dark. A teen’s bedroom should be uncluttered and relaxing to ensure good sleep and full daytime productivity. The bed should be associated only with sleep, not with reading, studying, or watching TV.
If you have difficulties falling asleep, snore excessively, or have trouble maintaining full daytime alertness, consider seeing a doctor or sleep specialist to evaluate if there is an underlying cause or contribution.
For more information about teenagers' sleeping habits, call The Los Angeles Sleep Study Institute at 1-855-690-0563.