Teenage sleep patterns can be varied, inconsistent, and different to that of an adult or young child. With the current lockdowns and school disruptions, it’s no wonder that so many teens are struggling to maintain a healthy sleep pattern. Sleep issues in teenagers are not unusual and there some simple measures that can be taken to support healthy sleep. However, if you or your child are worried about insomnia or sleep problems, please see a doctor or medical professional.
How much sleep do teenagers need?
Studies have shown that an ideal amount of sleep for most teenagers is anything between 8 to 10 hours a night. During the teenage years, the body’s circadian rhythm (the internal biological body clock) is reset, which impacts when a person feels ready to fall asleep and wake up. Puberty hormones shift the teenager’s body clock forward by about one or two hours, making them sleepier one to two hours later. Yet, while the teenager falls asleep later, early school starts don’t allow them to sleep in. This nightly ‘sleep debt’ leads to chronic sleep deprivation.
Why do teenagers struggle with sleep?
There are a number of factors that cause sleep issues in teenagers. However, one of the main culprits is definitely smart devices. There are two reasons for this – the first being that the world wide web has made it possible to connect with other people at every hour of every day. For many people, this comes with the expectation that you will always be available to respond to things online. The fact that there is always something happening somewhere in the world, or someone to talk to, means that there’s always an alternative to sleep.
The second reason is ‘blue light’ from our devices, and to a lessor extent, artificial lighting, which gives our circadian rhythm (body clock) cues that it is time to be awake. This means that evening use of smart phones and laptops, not only keeps our minds active, but it suppresses the production of melatonin (known as the ‘sleep hormone’). This is not a problem unique to teenagers. But, contemporary teenagers are living at a point in time where they have access to all these technologies, but there is not enough research into the damaging effects of long-term blue light exposure, so many parents and teenagers are unaware of the dangers. Teenagers are generally less worried about their long-term health than adults, and in turn, are more likely to take risks.
According to a study by Vic Health and the Sleep Health Foundation, it was shown that teenagers who put down their smart-phones an hour before bed gain an extra 21 minutes of sleep at night. This equates to 1 hour and 45 minutes extra sleep over the school week! What would be considered as a leisure activity, such as watching television or playing on the internet or computer, can stimulate the brain and muscles and pump the body full of adrenaline making it hard for the body and brain to ‘switch off’.
Having a hectic schedule, such as homework, extra-curricular activities and part-time work can also affect a teenager’s sleeping time. In 21st century Western culture, study/work and maintaining a social life is often valued more than sleep. This can turn into a vicious cycle – insufficient sleep causes a teenager’s brain to become more active, and in turn, having an over-aroused brain is less able to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Medical sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome, sleep apnea and insomnia, could also be the cause of teenage sleep struggles. If you think you or your teen might have any of these issues, seek medical advice, as an accurate diagnosis and treatment can make a big difference to sleep quality.
How do sleep issues impact teenagers?
A number of issues can arise if a teenager doesn’t get enough quality sleep; these can range from mental and emotional disruptions to physical effects. Things such as concentration difficulties or ‘drifting off’ in class are among the most common symptoms, along with a shortened attention span and memory impairment which can lead to a decline in their academic performance. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to poor decision making, moodiness and aggression and a lack of enthusiasm, which are traits often associated with puberty anyway. Risk-taking behaviour and slower physical reflexes can also result in physical injuries. Studies have found that sleep deprivation can reduce reaction times with an effect similar to that of significant alcohol consumption.
How can teenagers improve their sleep?
There are a number of things a teenager can do in order to improve their sleep health. Some techniques include working out a sleep schedule to ensure the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep are achieved, creating a pre-bed routine, avoiding caffeine after 5pm (or all afternoon if possible), keeping the bedroom cool, dark and quiet. And, only associating bed with sleep (which means no TV’s in the room, charge your phone away from the bed so you’re not tempted to play on it or look at it whilst you’re trying to fall asleep.)
Essential oils are an easy, natural way to start getting better sleep. Magnesium oil also helps aid sleep in people with a magnesium deficiency, which, unfortunately, is a lot of people – rubbing magnesium oil onto the feet and legs before bed produces the best results. Sleep hypnosis and guided meditation also work well for anxious or busy teenagers to help them switch off and relax – there is an abundance of free resources online.
‘Flux’ is free software that turns down the blue light on your computer after sundown. Most mobile phones also have this function, commonly known as ‘night shift’ or something similar. Better yet, avoid technology completely for at least an hour before bed.
Please note: This article is not to be used as medical advice. Always speak to a medical professional before using sleep products to make sure they are right for you. This post may contain affiliate links.