We underestimate sleep. Young kids have no problem falling asleep whenever they are tired. My youngest can still fall asleep mid sentence! You never hear a young child saying “What an awful night, I tossed and turned…”. And yet as we get older we learn to ignore the signals our body sends us. We begin to believe sleep is optional, some extra time in the day when we feel under pressure. We forget what sleep actually does for us.
Teenagers need 9-10 hours of sleep to be able to develop and function properly.
You don’t need to be a math whiz to figure out that if you wake up for school at 6:00 AM, you’d have to go to bed at 9:00 PM to reach the 9-hour mark. Studies have found that many teens, have trouble falling asleep that early, though. It’s not because they don’t want to sleep. It’s because their brains naturally work on later schedules and aren’t ready for bed. At this age there are some technical things going on inside them that means they naturally operate on a later internal time clock.
As a result, some students are getting only 7 hours of sleep. Perhaps because of this sleep-deprivation, their grades lower and their concentration is impaired. As a result of studies showing the effects of sleep-deprivation on grades, and the different sleep patterns for teenagers, a school in New Zealand changed its start time to 10:30, in 2006, to allow students to keep to a schedule that allowed more sleep. Similarly a high school in Copenhagen has committed to providing at least one class per year for students who will start at 10 a.m. or later.
Now, I don’t see this becoming widespread anytime soon so we have to live with the situation as it is and help our teens get as much sleep as they can to protect their health and performance. Here are some suggestions from www.kidshealth.org
5 Ideas for Better Sleep
A recent study shows that about 1 in 4 teens has trouble sleeping. Lack of sleep can affect everything from our emotions to how well we focus on tasks like driving. It can affect sports performance, increase our chances of getting sick, and may be linked to weight gain in some people.
How can we get the sleep we need? Here are some ideas:
- Be active during the day. You’ve probably noticed how much running around little kids do — and how soundly they sleep. Take a tip from a toddler and get at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. Physical activity can decrease stress and help people feel more relaxed. Just don’t work out too close to bedtime because exercise can wake you up before it slows you down.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. Lots of people think that alcohol or drugs will make them relaxed and drowsy, but that’s not the case. Drugs and alcohol disrupt sleep, increasing a person’s chance of waking up in the middle of the night.
- Say goodnight to electronics. Experts recommend using the bedroom for sleep only. If you can’t make your bedroom a tech-free zone, at least shut everything down an hour or more before lights out. Nothing says, “Wake up, something’s going on!” like the buzz of a text or the ping of an IM.
- Keep a sleep routine. Going to bed at the same time every night helps the body expect sleep. Creating a set bedtime routine can enhance this relaxation effect. So unwind every night by reading, listening to music, spending time with a pet, writing in a journal, playing Sudoku, or doing anything else that relaxes you.
- Expect a good night’s sleep. Stress can trigger insomnia, so the more you agonize about not sleeping, the greater the risk you’ll lie awake staring at the ceiling. Instead of worrying that you won’t sleep, remind yourself that you can. Say, “Tonight, I will sleep well” several times during the day. It can also help to practice breathing exercises or gentle yoga poses before bed.
Everyone has a sleepless night once in a while. But if you regularly have trouble sleeping and you think it’s affecting your mood or performance, talk to your doctor.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
You can find out more information on teen health at: