How long should teenagers sleep?
There seems to be no middle ground with teens. They have the ability to stay up all night chatting with their friends or playing video games, but then trying to wake them in the morning is like trying to wake the dead. Furthermore, they can be grumpy or sullen during the day that seems to indicate that they are not getting adequate sleep yet when night-time falls they get their second wind. So it begs the question, how much sleep does a teenager need and how can you help to ensure the sleep they do get is quality?
How much sleep per night does the average teenager need?
Sleep experts estimate that the average teenager needs between eight and 10 hours of sleep every night. However, research indicates that most teens are getting significantly fewer hours sleep with the average being between 6.5 and 7.5 hours per night. The sleep they need is actually more than both a full-grown adult and a little child.
Why it is important to get enough sleep and good quality sleep
If your teenager regularly misses out on sleep this could lead to chronic sleep deprivation. Consequentially, chronic sleep deprivation can have negative impacts on your teenager’s life including amongst other symptoms:
- Difficulties with concentration / shortened attention span
- Poor decision making
- Lack of enthusiasm, moodiness, and aggression
- Increased risk of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem
- Reduced academic and sporting performance
Why are so many teenagers suffering from sleep deprivation?
During puberty, hormones wreak havoc on an adolescent’s natural circadian rhythm. This is known as the hormonal time shift and it shifts their body clock back 1-2 hours, meaning it is more difficult to fall asleep before 11pm. Their biology makes them ‘night owls’ but they are still expected to wake early, ready to learn at school despite their natural sleep cycle being broken. Add to this extra homework, exam pressure, extra-curricular activities/sports and maybe a part time job, it’s no wonder so many are in a sleep deficit.
Other reasons for lack of sleep include using screens just before bedtime, watching TV late and night-time gaming. There are studies showing that the light exposure from these numerous screens can prevent production of melatonin, the brain chemical required for sleep.
What can parents and carers do to encourage good sleep habits
There are numerous things that you can do to help your teenager establish healthy sleep habits and break the sleep deprivation cycle including:
- Allowing your child to catch up on sleep at the weekends. They are not being lazy, they need to sleep in.
- Encourage them to get a good night’s sleep on Sunday evening to set them up positively for the week ahead. Ensure sleep schedules remain consistent on school nights.
- Avoid early morning commitments – aim for afternoon classes/activities and appointments.
- Encourage your teenager to streamline their schedule, reduce overcommitments and do homework after school rather than late in the evening.
Ensure good sleep hygiene
There are also some practical things you can do to help good sleep hygiene if your teens are willing to try:
- Go back to basics, create a relaxing wind down routine before bed, warm bath, gentle exercise, milky drink etc
- Make sure their bedroom is restful. Maybe encourage study to take place downstairs rather than in the room. Decorate in calm colours, ensure the room has fresh air and is a comfortable temperature, keep noise to a minimum. Ensure that their rooms are dark at night and light in the morning, you may want to invest in a natural light alarm clock that gradually gets lighter when it is time to wake up.
- Here’s the tricky one – try to avoid screens, stimulating music or homework for at least an hour before bedtime. Try to live by example as this is a good habit for us all to live by.
- Stop drinking caffeinated drinks and eating chocolate in the afternoon and evening.
- Invest in a comfortable mattress and bedding. Teens sleep better when they are properly supported with a decent mattress. Choose the best mattress you can afford as these are really influential in aiding a good night’s sleep. Ask your young person to give their mattress a review so you can understand how comfortable it really is.
- Make sure they get adequate fresh air and physical activity during the day so that they are more physically tired at night.
How can schools help adolescents?
Wouldn’t it be great if the schools can follow an adolescent’s body clock and start late morning and finish late afternoon? Unfortunately I suspect there isn’t the option for schools to alter their school start time, but teachers can help the young people by positively reinforcing the same messages about establishing healthy sleep habits. They can help by avoiding scheduling essential core subjects in the first two lessons of the school day. Start the day with exercise rather than maths/grammar lessons.
Above all, be empathetic and compassionate when dealing with sleepy teens. Try to remember how you used to feel and support rather than punish those who seem sleepy in lessons.
Remember that routines can take at least four weeks to become a habit and become a positive sleep pattern. Try and be consistent with your approach by setting a regular wake-up time and avoid staying up too late on Friday and Saturday evenings. It will take about six weeks before some of the symptoms of sleep deprivation are alleviated, and the benefits will be reaped. Good luck!
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If you are worried that your teen has a sleep problem and despite trying some of the advice above, they still are not achieving sleep quality or are getting insufficient sleep, then please contact your doctor, who may refer you to a sleep specialist. You can read more about this interesting topic from the National Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep