It’s easy to look at teens who seem constantly tired, irritable, and overstretched, and think they’re just having trouble with time management. But recent sleep research shows that teens are physically “programmed” to feel sleepy later, go to bed later, and wake up later than younger children or adults. This leaves teens stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to school and family obligations. Here’s why sleep is important for teenagers.
Sleep Patterns In Teenagers
According to TeensHealth, sleep research shows that the circadian rhythms of teens are offset from their younger and older counterparts. Teens are physiologically wired to fall asleep later. In teenagers, the brain chemical melatonin – which is related to the onset of sleepiness and sleep – is produced later at night than in small children or adults, and this physical difference may account for the variation in sleep patterns between teens and other family members.
The trouble is, most teens also need more sleep than adults. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most teenagers need about 9.25 hours of sleep each night to function at their peak. Unfortunately, most teens also don’t feel the least bit sleepy until after 11:00 at night, and have to get up early to make it to school on time. The result? Grumpy, harried teens with too many commitments and too little energy. One can’t help but wonder how much of the “teen angst” concept is due to little more than exhaustion. Even grownups don’t function well under continuous sleep deprivation!
What Adults Can Do to Help
If there’s a sleepy teen in your life, the best thing you can do is offer support and understanding. Don’t begrudge your teenager that extra hour (or five) of sleep on the weekends. But more importantly, help them to understand what’s going on.
Help your teen find ways to get the sleep he or she needs. Schedule nap times in the afternoon or early evening, knowing your teen will be up late anyway. Leave weekend mornings open for kids to sleep in, and even encourage an afternoon nap on weekend days. Discourage afternoon caffeine or energy drinks, since they can exacerbate the teen desire to stay awake late. And use a gentle but firm hand when it comes to bedtime on school nights. Help make sure homework and other commitments are done in a timely manner, and enforce a ‘lights out’ rule at a reasonable time for teenage physiology—usually sometime between 10:00 pm and midnight.
Teach your teen the meaning of “sleep hygiene.” Help your teens find evening activities that promote sleepiness, so they can get to bed a little earlier. For some, reading is relaxing – but for others, a good book can keep a kid up late into the night. Journaling, straightening the bedroom, laying out clothes for the next day, or otherwise building a relaxing evening routine can make a difference.