According to Dr. Beti Nissan, a pediatrician with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, teens ages 13 to 19 need eight to 10 hours of sleep each night to sufficiently allow their bodies to rest, regulate hormones, process what was learned during the day and restore energy. Unfortunately, they have a lot working against them.
The troubles facing teens in need of sleep
From school stress to anxiety about relationships and all of the other responsibilities teens face, simply falling asleep can be a challenge. Add to that the many distractions constantly pulling at their attention and a perfect storm of insomnia and insufficient sleep comes together.
“The teen years do have more sleep issues,” says Dr. Nissan. “As a person grows from child to teen, they face a variety of changes — their bodies change, school may start earlier, they’re more drawn to check phones for text messages and social media updates, and mental health issues can increase — all profoundly affecting their sleep.”
The National Sleep Foundation polled teens and their parents and found that only 15% of teens get enough sleep. They also learned the top sleep-stealing causes affecting teenagers are:
Biology. Not the science class — though, challenging academics and related homework can pull kids away from sleep. Teens’ natural biological sleep patterns shift toward falling asleep later at night and waking later in the morning.
School start times. Knowing they face an early morning school bell does not necessarily mean teens will get themselves to bed early, especially when their natural sleep cycle is at odds with earlier sleep and wake times.
Irregular sleep patterns. When teens have to wake at the crack of dawn for school, they often try to compensate by sleeping later on weekends. This actually hurts, rather than helps them, as their biological sleep clocks are affected.
Overscheduled lives. Homework, a busy social life, after-school sports and activities, family responsibilities, part-time jobs and more make getting to bed early enough to get eight to 10 hours of sleep nearly impossible for most teens.
Digital media. The digital media options for today’s teens seem endless. From social media and video games to online videos and nonstop streaming movies and TV shows, screen time takes up a lot of teens’ sleep time.
Stress. The stress of societal pressures, academic and familial obligations, loaded schedules, and personal expectations can feel overwhelming and keep kids awake, both because of the emotional strain and the stress hormones that make it harder to fall asleep.
What can happen when teens don’t sleep? Beyond the common issues people of all ages experience when they don’t get sufficient sleep, a lack of sleep can also result in the following consequences for teens:
- Increased risk of car accidents
- School tardiness or absence
- Falling asleep in class
- Poor performance at school and in activities, such as sports
- Increased risk of sports injuries
- Acne and other skin problems
- Increased use of caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants to boost energy
- Decreased immunity to illness
- Relationship troubles due to increased irritability and moodiness
Dr. Nissan says that parents play a key role in helping their teens get the sleep they need. The first step is setting a good example by honoring your own sleep needs, avoiding the use of stimulants (such as caffeine) to stay awake later than your body’s natural sleep clock requires, and putting away your electronics well before your own bedtime.
“I recommend keeping all electronics, including smartphones, tablets and computers out of teens’ rooms, especially at night, with all screen time ending at least one hour before bed,” says Dr. Nissan. “Encourage a regular bedtime routine, stick to a schedule, and address any stress, anxiety or depression issues to improve both sleep and mental health.”
Signs of a serious sleep issue include snoring or erratic breathing during sleep, sleepwalking, or taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep several nights each week. Talk to your child’s doctor if you are concerned about your child’s sleep and how it might be affecting their physical and mental health.
This article is the fourth and final in a series of articles on children and sleep. The first three articles shared tips to get an infant to sleep, addressed how to tackle toddler sleep troubles and offered ways parents can help older kids get enough sleep.