Is Your Teen Getting Enough Sleep?

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If you live with a teen, you’ve probably noticed you’re on different sleep schedules. If your teen is like most. 

While teens need eight to 10 hours of sleep a night, studies show that only 15 percent of them get eight hours of sleep on school nights. As a result, they may underperform in the classroom. And more concerning: Drivers age 25 and under account for half of asleep-at-the-wheel accidents.

Your teenager’s tendency to stay up late and sleep late the next morning is part of a natural sleep rhythm that’s often at odds with school and work demands.

“When a child becomes a teenager, they need more sleep and they also experience a change in their circadian rhythm, which determines the time of day they want to go to sleep,” says Michael Barrow, MD, a family physician with Samaritan North Family Physicians. 

Everyone’s body has a natural circadian rhythm in which the hormone melatonin is released, creating the natural feeling of sleepiness.

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“Kids may say they don’t feel as if they can go to bed before midnight or one in the morning, and that’s probably true,” Dr. Barrow says. “They haven’t started to wind down yet because of the timing of that chemical release. By the same token, the chemical release makes them more tired in the morning. They’re not being lazy. Their bodies really want to sleep more because that’s just the way their body is wired.”

Your teenager’s tendency to stay up late and sleep late the next morning is part of a natural sleep rhythm that’s often at odds with school and work demands.

The allure of electronics and social media adds to teens’ sleep deprivation, Dr. Barrow says.

Dr. Michael Barrow explains why sleep is important for teens – and how social media and electronics contribute to sleep deprivation. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

Why is sleep important for teenagers?

The teenager who doesn't get enough sleep, there's lots of downstream consequences for that. Some of that is something they see right away. Some of it is something that may show up later especially if they're chronically sleep deprived. It would be things like impairment in concentration, in learning. Moods are changed. They can be irritable and grumpy even maybe more so than normally would have with adolescents. You see more auto accidents, work related injuries, those type of things when they're not getting enough sleep. They want to make sure they get plenty of sleep because it'll affect other aspects of their life.

Signs that a parent can watch for to help determine if their child is not getting enough sleep are similar to a lot of the signs that adolescents exhibit anyhow so sometimes can be hard to sort out. What is normal teenager behavior and what is sleep deprivation? Things such as being irritable and grumpy all the time, changing grades especially if grades are going down, the kids are not focused, if they're falling asleep at family events, or you notice that every time they get in the car if they're the passenger they're dosing off or worse yet that they're having trouble staying awake when they're driving. Those are signs that they can recognize it.

 

Hazards of Teen Sleep Deprivation

Safety- and health-related problems that can result from sleep deprivation include:

  • Irritability or moodiness
  • Unsafe driving
  • Declining grades and difficulty concentrating
  • Increased risk of obesity, diabetes and heart disease
  • Listening issues
  • Work-related injuries
  • Poor sports performance
  • Skin problems, including acne
  • Trouble problem solving

Dr. Michael Barrow talks about the consequences of not getting enough sleep. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

What are the health consequences to teens who do not get enough sleep?

The teenager who doesn't get enough sleep, there's lots of downstream consequences for that. Some of that is something they see right away. Some of it is something that may show up later especially if they're chronically sleep deprived. It would be things like impairment in concentration, in learning. Moods are changed. They can be irritable and grumpy even maybe more so than normally would have with adolescents. You see more auto accidents, work related injuries, those type of things when they're not getting enough sleep. They want to make sure they get plenty of sleep because it'll affect other aspects of their life.

Signs that a parent can watch for to help determine if their child is not getting enough sleep are similar to a lot of the signs that adolescents exhibit anyhow so sometimes can be hard to sort out. What is normal teenager behavior and what is sleep deprivation? Things such as being irritable and grumpy all the time, changing grades especially if grades are going down, the kids are not focused, if they're falling asleep at family events, or you notice that every time they get in the car if they're the passenger they're dosing off or worse yet that they're having trouble staying awake when they're driving. Those are signs that they can recognize it.

 

How You Can Help Your Teen

Dr. Barrow offers some guidelines on helping your teen get the rest he needs for optimal health and performance: 

  • Understand it’s biological: Sleep is significantly linked to a change in a teen’s biological clock. Use this understanding to help your teen form strategies to get the sleep she needs.
  • Set a consistent sleep schedule: Teens have a tendency to sleep very little during the week and try to catch up on the weekend. But sleep deprivation can’t be reversed. Try to keep sleep schedules as consistent as possible on weekdays and weekends. A regular nightly routine is a natural way to tell your body it’s time to turn in.
  • Power down early: Encourage your teen to turn off devices with a lighted screen an hour before bedtime. And to use this time to get a warm shower or prepare for the next school day. 

Other ways to promote good sleep include limiting caffeine intake, especially in late afternoon or evening. Keep electronics out of the bedroom and make sure the room is cool, dark and quiet. Learn more tips for good sleep.

Dr. Michael Barrow talks about how much sleep teens need. Click play to watch the video or read the transcript.

How much sleep should a teenager get?

Sleep is important for teenagers, as well as anybody else for that matter, that it helps them with their brain function because sleep is really brain food. Your brain needs that food in order to be able to function well. It will affect every other aspect of their life if they're not getting enough sleep.

Teenagers run the risk of being sleep deprived multiple ways. I think social media is probably one of the ones that gets the most attention and well deservedly so because it is one of the common reasons for that.

It's not just social media. Part of it is their need to be connected at all times to their cell phones or their iPads or whatever it is that they got. They feel that they need to respond to everything right away which is different than the way that previous generations were raised. They feel like they need to keep that with them and be in touch all the time. There's a syndrome known as Fear of Missing Out, FOMO, where they don't want to be left out on anything. The phone is one of the best ways for them to keep in the loop if you will, so they're not left out.

 
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