5 Things You Should Know: Teens and Sleep

By: Maria Trimarchi

Is your teenager getting enough sleep each night?
Is your teenager getting enough sleep each night?

How much sleep we need depends on a lot of things and age is a big one. While most adults need about seven or eight hours a night, kids need more: School-aged kids need a minimum of 10 hours a sleep each night, and that includes teenagers.

However, most teens are only averaging about six hours of sleep a night, leaving them at risk not just of failing calculus class, but for cognitive and emotional problems and accidents. Read more about what parents can do to help kids sleep more - and sleep better.


#5 - Walking Zombies

While kids naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m., but when puberty hits, a teenager's internal clock changes. A study by the National Sleep Foundation found teenagers often don't begin to feel tired until 11 p.m. or later. And because of homework, extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, friends and early first period classes, most teens are only banking about six or so hours of sleep each night. That's a big difference from the nine to ten they are reported to need.

Daytime drowsiness means poor concentration in school, especially in first and second period classes, increased tardiness and absenteeism and poor grades and performance in after-school activities (especially sports). School districts are starting to take notice of studies about the circadian rhythms of teens and some are making changes to suit. Minneapolis Public Schools, for example, rescheduled the start times of its high schools from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. and initial reports found fewer walking zombies in the hallways.


#4 - Accidents

A lack of sleep is not only causing havoc on GPAs but on our roadways as well. According to the National Institutes of Health's National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, nearly 55 percent of 100,000 car crashes in which drivers fell asleep involve drivers who are under the age of 26. Being drowsy is more distracting -- and dangerous -- than cell phones when behind the wheel and quadruples the chances a driver will be in an accident.

In a study published by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine researchers also found that when schools bumped their start times ahead by an hour teen accident rates dropped by 16.5 percent.


#3 - Reset the Clock

Need help resetting your teen's sleep clock? Regular sleep and wake times (that means no lengthy or evening naps) will help boost sleep quality but there's more to it than just that. Banish or limit distractions from the bedroom. This can include cell phones, music, TV, computers or gaming systems. Keep bedrooms quiet and dark and use the bed for sleep only and encourage your teen to use the 30 minutes before sleep to relax. Avoid vigorous exercise and stressful activities such as homework right before sleep. Also, watch your teen's caffeine intake. Those energy drinks and Venti lattes add up quickly. And while we know that incoming text message is super important, it's important to make sure sleep is the priority.


#2 - Physical Effects of Poor Sleep Habits

Only about 20 percent of teens report they get the recommended nine hours of sleep on school nights. Lack of sufficient and quality sleep can put teens (or anyone, really) at risk for cognitive and emotional difficulties, accidents, physical illness and mental disorders, including depression.

Depression in teenagers is tricky and a subject of much study. Teens who are vulnerable to depression may find that carrying a sleep debt increases the odds of suffering from the disease. Those already suffering from depression may find that their sleep patterns are inconsistent and their sleep quality is poor (frequently interrupted or cut short).


Teens who suffer from poor sleep quality may also suffer from increased odds of pre-hypertension and elevated blood pressure, poor physical performance and a weakened immune system, which means more sick days at school.

#1 - When There's a Bigger Problem at Hand

While sleep debt or partial sleep deprivation may be attributed to late night studying and early morning homeroom, sometimes a teenager's daytime drowsiness is a symptom of a bigger problem, such as sleep apnea or depression.

Sleep apnea is a condition where the throat muscles collapse and block air from moving through the nose and windpipe. It interferes with breathing and with sleep quality. A doctor can diagnose sleep apnea fairly quickly.


Teens suffering from depression will commonly also suffer from too much sleep or insomnia. Insomnia, though, may also be due to side effects from prescription medications to treat depression or other disorders such as ADD. Additionally, overuse of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicines can all impact the quality and quantity of sleep. As can stress.

The best solution is to communicate openly with your teen to find out if there is a larger issue that's affecting their sleep patterns. You might be able to get to the root of the problem faster than you think.