Why Teens Need More Sleep
Adults are told to get six to eight hours of sleep each night. Did you know that the recommendation for adolescents—up until about age 22—is nine-plus hours of sleep? They even need more sleep than young children.
And yet, they’re not getting it. One study found that 58 percent of middle schoolers and 73 percent of high schoolers don’t get adequate sleep on school nights. The consequences of sleep deprivation, such as poor mental health and reduced academic performance, can be serious and damaging. It’s important for teens and parents to understand why sleep is important and how to prioritize it.
Why Is it So Important to Make Sure Teens Get Enough Sleep?
The main reason that teens need so much sleep is the same reason that babies sleep a lot: brain development. The adolescent years are essentially a second developmental period of important changes and growth in the brain and in cognitive function. There are also physical growth spurts during this time period. Both require rest so that the body and brain can recharge and develop normally.
It is important for people of any age to get adequate sleep for good mental and physical health. Poor sleep can lead to health problems, but for teens, the consequences may be even more serious. Sleep deprivation can negatively impact mood and worsen mental health issues. For teens at risk for suicide due to depression, sleep becomes even more important.
Poor sleep can also trigger risky behaviors and drowsy driving. At their age, teens are only just learning to drive and can be easily distracted by friends in the car or their cell phones, drowsiness makes this even riskier.
At school poor sleep has far-reaching consequences. Poor sleep causes declines in cognitive ability. Academic performance can drop, and a teen may also exhibit more behavioral challenges at school with sleep deprivation.
How to Help Your Teen Get More, Better Sleep
Pushing a teen to do anything can be challenging, but if they understand some of the consequences and the reasons behind the need for sleep, they may be open to suggestions:
- One reason teens tend to get less sleep than they need is that the circadian rhythm shifts during puberty. While at age 10 they may feel sleepy around 8 pm, by 12 they’re not tired until 10:00. And, they don’t want to get up early as a result. Forcing a teen to go to bed earlier and get up earlier will be a struggle, but stick with it and the brain will eventually adjust.
- Limit the use of devices and even television in the hour or two before bed. Have your teen relax with a book instead. This will help them wind down and become sleepier. Another good option before bed is to meditate. Introduce your teen to Relax Melodies’ easy pre-sleep meditation exercises and practice them together.
- Be an advocate for later school start times. High schools traditionally start early in the morning, but experts, parents, and educators are pushing for later start times to give teens the chance to sleep more. California’s legislature recently approved a bill that would ban classes from starting before 8:30 am.
- Make some lifestyle changes. There are many elements of a normal teen’s life that can impair sleep. For example, energy drinks are full of caffeine. Eliminate or cut back on sugar and caffeine and see how it improves their sleep. Your teen may also have one too many extracurriculars to juggle. Too many activities plus their academic responsibilities will limit the time available for sleep.
- See your pediatrician if necessary. If your teen struggles with sleep more than you feel is normal, there may be an underlying medical condition to blame. Your pediatrician can make a diagnosis and recommend treatment or other strategies for better sleep.
Teens are like a different species when you compare them to adults. Their brains simply work differently, and they need more sleep to function than adults. By helping your teen develop good sleep habits now, you’ll be setting them up for healthy sleep for the rest of their lives.
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