In recent years, researchers have found that teenagers are experiencing an “epidemic of sleep deprivation” world-wide. Parents are desperate for their teens to have a good night’s sleep, and a pattern of sleep deprivation can negatively affect health long-term.
For starters, how much sleep do they actually need? And what’s the best way for parents to get them there? Teenagers are not adults yet, and their brains and bodies are still developing. They need more sleep because of this.
In addition, their sleep-wake rhythms are different, and they release melatonin (a natural hormone to prepare for sleep) later, meaning the feeling of sleepiness comes later than it does for us. As a result, they tend to go to bed later but also sleep later too. This makes school schedules quite difficult!
Another factor is their peers. Social demands have increased and will continue to from texting to social media to web browsing and more. At the same time, academic pressures increase, and parent exercise less control over their teenagers’ bedtimes.
Eight to 10 hours, regularly
After reviewing 864 papers that examined the relationship between a child’s health and the duration of their sleep, experts have said that those between 13 and 18 years of age should regularly be getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep per 24 hours.
Can you guess what percentage of teens are getting this much? Unfortunately, 53 percent globally get less than this. Recent reports indicate that only 5 percent of adolescents get the recommended amount of sleep, physical activity, and screen time, and the older the adolescent, the less likely they were to have healthy sleeping habits.
Sex hormones and the stress response
Adolescents experience a lot of change during this developmental stage – their thinking, emotions, behavior, and relationships are all constantly being formed.
Changes to brain connections contribute to improvements in thinking abilities and changes in brain signaling. Shifts in the balance between brain systems create a period where teens may take increased risks or engage in more reward seeking.
Teenagers’ stress response systems are still maturing, so they tend to react a lot to stress. What’s more, their sex hormones affect the neurotransmitters in their brains, increasing their reaction to stress. Throw in inadequate sleep, and you’ve got a big mess on your hands!
In fact, recent studies have identified a relationship between risk for suicide, obesity, high rates of injury, short attention spans, and low school grades with teens getting insufficient sleep. On the other hand, getting 9 or more hours was associated with better life satisfaction, better family relationships, and fewer health issues.
One study looked at two high schools in the Seattle school district. They found that a later school start time meant an increase in teens’ average sleep duration and resulted in an increase of average grades and school attendance.
Drugs, alcohol and high cholesterol
When researchers look at teen drivers that slept six or less hours each night, they found that their driving was much riskier and their intake of alcohol and drugs was greater than those sleeping more than six hours. As a result, the group with less sleep had a higher risk for multiple vehicle crashes.
On the other hand, evidence also shows that teens that have greater quality and quantity of sleep have a lower risk for high blood pressure and cholesterol, insulin resistance, and obesity than those with less sleep and lower quality sleep.
Of course, this information was found after taking into consideration such things as body fat, physical activity, diet quality, and television viewing. In fact, recent reports show a correlation between teens’ sleep time, screen time, and poor mental health.
Park the electronic devices
The first thing parents can do is set real bedtimes and stick to them; encourage your teens to use their beds only for sleep or relaxing just before going to sleep. Second, parents should discourage or even restrict the use of electronic technology before bed and during the night as it increases the risk for shorter sleep times.
Both physical activity and avoiding screens before bed promote longer and better sleep times. Simply making the charging station or all devices somewhere else in the house and not in bedrooms could help.
Finally, parents’ involving themselves more in their teens’ lives and engaging in relaxing family activities in the evenings will help tremendously.