Patterns, changes, and recommendations.Are teenagers sleep-deprived? It seems so, given the high demands on any teen living in our 24/7 world with so much going on — school, work, sports, after- school programs and social activities. Not to mention ever-present distractions such as TV, phones and video games.
Sleep Patterns During Adolescence
Adolescents often begin their teenage years with the characteristic sleep-like-a-log tendencies of middle childhood. That is to say, they fall asleep quickly and stay asleep until it’s time to wake up, often not needing an alarm clock.
As teens move into middle and late adolescence, they have a biologic shift in their sleep cycle due to puberty and hormonal factors, so that they have a natural tendency to push both bed and wake times later. As a result, their time spent in deep sleep shortens and their total time asleep averages about seven hours. But teens need about eight-and-a half to nine-and-a-half hours of sleep each night. That means a teen is racking up a sleep debt of about one to two hours per night! This debt interferes with her ability to be at her best during school and her activities. Teens often try to sleep later in the morning during days off, but often don’t have the chance to truly catch up. If you’re concerned about whether your teen is getting adequate quality sleep, read on for expert answers to questions from other parents who may share your concerns.
1 Is my teen getting enough sleep? Probably not. Reports show that only about ten percent of teens are getting the recommended amount of sleep. Worse still, the sleep shortage seems to increase as teens get older. This may be due to increasing demands on their time and the increased use of technology.
2 How does not getting enough sleep affect my teen? This often chronic lack of sleep can lead to problems with mood (bad temper, anger, depression), ability to pay attention and concentrate, memory skills, school tasks, drug use (caffeine, stimulants) and behavior (acting out, risk taking, decreased physical activity). About 25 percent of teens have fallen asleep in class. Over half of teens report feeling sleepy or tired during the day, which can lead to drowsy driving with potentially fatal results. Daytime sleepiness has also been linked to an increased risk for both sports- and job-related injuries.
3 How will my teen cope with fitting in every activity? Today’s college-bound students have increased pressure for high levels of achievement in school, sports, community projects and extracurricular activities in order to stand out on their college applications. But burning the candle at both ends often ends up backfiring. Some teens are too tired to concentrate and perform their activities well. They may stay up late to study for good grades; however, those who sleep more have been shown to get better grades, as increased sleep improves cognitive abilities more than extra study time does.
4 What about those early school start times? They are problematic in that students are required to wake up before having had the opportunity to get enough sleep. Therefore, they are not alert enough to be able to focus and learn at that time of day. Schools that have moved to later start times have found improvements in students’ grades, attendance and test scores, along with a decreased dropout rate. Be an advocate for your teen by helping your school administration understand the benefits of instituting later start times.
5 How does technology affect a teen’s sleep? Almost half of teens report having a TV in their room, which can be associated with sleep problems and not getting enough sleep. Other electronics such as computers, phones, tablets and e-readers can give off enough light to stimulate the brain and make falling asleep more difficult. Playing an exciting video game or watching a scary movie can also interfere with sleep. Some teens also want to sleep with their phones so they can be available to receive texts at any hour.
6 Should my teen nap? Late daytime napping can further interfere with your teen falling asleep at the desired bedtime. However, a power nap lasting about 20 minutes in the early afternoon can be allowed, especially before engaging in activities that require undivided attention such as driving. A short nap allows a teen to recharge and restore wakefulness but not enter into a deep sleep that will make him groggy and unable to sleep later that night.
7 When and how should I teach good sleep habits? Good sleep habits should start early, well before the teenage years. You can help your teen get the sleep needed by encouraging best sleep practices and making sleep a priority. All teens need a sleep schedule, which includes a consistent bedtime and wake time, even on the weekends. This helps the body’s internal clock stay on a stable schedule.
If teens need to sleep in on weekends to make up for sleep lost during the week, their sleep time should not exceed more than two hours to avoid throwing off their sleep-wake cycle. Teens should avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, especially in the late afternoon, as they can stay in the body for many hours and disrupt sleep. The arrival of super-caffeinated drinks and other products can make it even more challenging to avoid exposure. Teens need a comfortable bed in a cool, dark, quiet room, preferably free of technology. Your teens should avoid bright lights and physical activity in the two hours before bed. But bright light and activity in the morning can help them become alert faster.
In order for you to be a good role model for your teen, it’s important for you to practice the best sleep practices as well.
Katherine Finn Davis, PhD, RN, CPNP, is a Nurse Researcher at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her research interests include behavioral sleep problems and environmental interventions to improve sleep. She has authored/ co-authored numerous articles and book chapters on pediatric sleep issues.