It’s common knowledge that everyone needs their sleep to function optimally during the day. But how much and how is it different for teenagers and what can you do to help? Keep reading to find out.
Lack of sleep and school
Between having to wake up on time to get to school and their desire to stay up later as they grow, adolescents often end up getting less than the recommended 10 hours of sleep. According to a study on insufficient sleep in adolescents and school start times, biological rhythms change during puberty causing teens to sleep at later times.
This change teenagers experience in their circadian rhythm seems to be due to the brain producing melatonin later in the night than it does for kids or adults. While this is usually why teenagers have a harder time falling asleep, early school start times don’t make things any easier on them!
Left to their own devices, most teenagers would choose to sleep at around 11 PM and wake up at around 9 AM. School start time, however, force teens to wake up much earlier than that. This, along with the excessive demands on students’ time during the evenings because of things like homework as well as after-school activities and employment can make sleep a mere afterthought.
What time should teens go to bed?
You can determine the best time for your teen to head to bed by subtracting about nine hours from the time they need to wake up in the morning. Make sure you account for the time your teen will need to unwind before getting to sleep because it does take most kids somewhere between thirty minutes to an hour to wind down. Most parents find that 10 PM is a reasonable time to have their kids hit the sack. It might be hard getting them to agree to a predetermined bedtime at first, but it isn’t impossible.
For kids above the age of fifteen, what works best is to educate them about their bodies’ needs and leave them to get themselves to bed on time. Younger teens might need a bit more gentle nudging:
- Encourage your kid to spend the hour before bedtime doing relaxing things like taking a bath, reading or listening to soft music.
- Request your kid to avoid electronic devices an hour before bed and to keep them in the family room overnight. You might even like to invest in some blue light glasses for them to use if they are up studying on their devices.
- Ensure your teenager hops out of bed as soon as they wake up in the morning rather than staying in bed.
Should I let my teenager sleep all day?
When teenagers miss out on getting their required amount of sleep repeatedly, over an extended period of time, a sleep deficit or ‘debt’ is created. Most teenagers justify sleeping in now and then with their need to “catch up on sleep.” It’s important to note, however, that making up for lost sleep isn’t as simple as sleeping all day.
Sleeping in till noon to make up for lost sleep might make your teen feel good temporarily, but in the long run it often ends up creating bigger problems. This paper in Current Biology, for instance, suggests that those who attempt to make up for their lost sleep during the weekends still pay a cost. That cost includes effects like an increased calorie intake after dinner, detrimental changes in how the body uses insulin, and weight gain.
Although the study was conducted on adults, the principle remains true for all ages; sleep is not very forgiving of being moved around according to our convenience – or our teens’, for that matter! The fact is that by sleeping all day, your teen’s circadian rhythm or internal clock gets thrown out of balance. This leads to them finding it harder and harder to sleep at night and get up in the morning. But don’t worry because you can help them break the cycle they didn’t intend to start with some of these simple methods:
- Encourage your teen to maintain the same sleep schedule on both weekdays and weekends (I know, good luck with that!)
- Encourage your teen to avoid caffeine after 3 PM (or altogether- they have their whole life to partake in coffee!).
- Have your teen avoid daytime naps as much as possible but if they must sleep, limit their naps to no longer than 30 minutes!
- Have your kid stay active and receive sunlight. The sun helps keep their internal clock on track and exercise might help with deeper sleep at night.
- If possible, have them eat their breakfast in the morning sunshine so their body knows its morning.
Sleep aids for teenagers
Sleep medicines are rarely used to help teens with sleep problems in Australia. In the event your child does need sleep aids, it’s important to only give them medicine that is prescribed by a doctor. The doctor, upon assessing the problem, will prescribe the appropriate medication along with a behaviour strategy to change your teen’s sleep habits. It’s crucial to always ask your child’s doctor for possible side effects of the medicine they’re prescribing.
Teenage sleep statistics Australia
LSAC Annual Statistical Report 2018 chapter, published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, is the first detailed analysis of Australian children’s sleeping habits. The study was a massive undertaking, with around 10,000 participants surveyed between 2010 and 2016.
The report states that nearly all 6-7 year olds were getting the required minimum hours of sleep, but only 50% of 16-17 year olds were. Four in five children, the report states, even believed they were getting enough sleep when in actuality they were not.