Health & Beauty

Teenagers and Sleep

Written by Chris Elliot

My eldest son, Zach, is 12 – soon to be 13 and in recent months I have started to notice him adopting certain teenage behaviors.

We get up at 7 am on Saturdays to take both our boys for their guitar lessons.  It is early because our excellent teacher is a distance away.  This Saturday I watched poor Zach yawn his way through his lesson, barely able to keep awake.  I have read about teen sleep patterns changing so I decided to research this issue a little further.

Sleep Patterns in Teens

We all know that teenagers like to stay up late and sleep in. My son got quite lazy when we ought him a leather bed from Quite often he will have the energy to stay up very late playing computer games or watching TV but cannot get out of bed in the mornings. Latest research suggests that there may be more to this than laziness or bad behaviour.

It would seem that the hormonal upheaval that teens are subject to is responsible for interfering with the natural circadian rhythm. Melatonin levels which increase at night time and make us sleepy can be delayed in teens by up to two hours. I have described the function of melatonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for sleep, in my hub ‘Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems’. This results in the teen being unable to fall asleep. So when your teen tells you that they are not tired, they may actually be telling the truth. Light exposure from television and computer screens, typical teen night time activities, can also inhibit melatonin production.

Sleep research suggests that teens need between 9 and 10 hours of sleep every night – this is actually more than children and adults. Most adolescents will only have 7 to 8 hours or less sleep. Sleep is very important for the rapid growth spurts that teenagers will undergo – some boys can grow as much as 9 cm in a year! The average boy is growing fastest between 14 and 15 years old whereas the average girl will do the most growing between 12 and 13 years.

Sleep Deprivation

Regularly not getting enough sleep will lead to sleep deprivation which can have dramatic effects on a teenager’s life – including reduced academic performance. Sleep deprivation can also lead to the following:

concentration problems
shortened attention span
clumsiness and slower physical reflexes which can affect sporting performance
risk taking behaviour
memory impairment
lack of enthusiasm
increased number of sick days from school because of tiredness

Sleep deprivation has also been linked to rebellious behaviour, smoking and obesity. Being tired while taking an IQ test can drop 7 points off your score says one study. Sleep related road deaths are most common in the 16 to 25 year old group.

How to prevent sleep deprivation

Rather than argue with your teenager about bed time, discuss the issue with them. You may be able to brainstorm ideas for them to increase their nightly sleep. Some ideas to help are as follows:

Allow your child to sleep late on weekends

Avoid early morning appointments if at all possible (I am going to try to get our guitar lesson time changed!)
Encourage an early night on Sundays
Decide together on times for stimulating activities to end (computer, TV, homework etc)
Encourage restful evening activities such as reading
Look at your child’s timetable to see whether they are over committed. Trim activities if you need to.
Avoid stimulants like caffeine and chocolate (also alcohol, tobacco and cannabis) in the evenings.

Should society change?

Many sleep researchers are now concluding that we should accept that teenagers need to sleep later through no fault of their own and that we should move school start times to later in the day.

Support your teenager

Even an extra 30 minutes of sleep can have a dramatic effect on a teenager’s life. Rather than feeling irritated with your teen for being ‘lazy’, remember that their sleep requirements and patterns are different from your own and do all you can to support them through these difficult years.

About the author

Chris Elliot