Fact or myth: do teenagers really need more sleep?

As a parent of a teen and tween, it was quite disconcerting when their staying up late and sleeping late started to become the norm in our household.

When I was young we weren’t allowed to lie in our bed past 8am and going to bed never went past 11pm. It was just how it was and no one was allowed to complain.

Now there’s all this talk about whether teenagers really need more sleep. There’s even proposals to change school hours so teens don’t have to get up too early. Sound like we’re spoiling the current generation? Maybe. Maybe not.

Find out if it’s a fact or myth that teens need more sleep.

 Shut eye is important

It is no surprise that research recommends about eight to nine hours of sleep for optimal performance. It is also no surprise that few are able to achieve this.

Yet, what may actually raise an eyebrow is how especially important these hours of sleep are for teenagers and possibly even tweens.

Needing more sleep has been attributed to the hormonal changes of adolescents and how it affects their circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our internal, biological clock.

However, for teens, this rhythm is affected in an unusual way.

It was reported by researchers at Stanford University who studied teen sleep that,

“…after 12 hours of being awake, the subjects [teens] were less sleepy than they had been earlier in the same day, and at the 10 o’clock test, after more than 14 hours of wakefulness had elapsed…they were even less sleepy.”

Dr. Judith Owens, lead researcher of an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) sleep study comments,

“Sleep is not optional. It’s a health imperative, like eating, breathing and physical activity.”

Changing your outlook

Science can often put things into perspective. All it takes is some strict, double-blind studies and clinical trials as well as a variety of other painstaking research to get the facts.

In the case of teens needing more sleep, the AAP reports several studies that support this theory. It cited that,

 “A National Sleep Foundation (NSF) poll found 59 percent of 6th through 8th graders and 87 percent of high school students in the U.S. were getting less than the recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep on school nights.”

This is mainly due to familial and school requirements as well as digital addiction. Most parents are unaware of how the teen brain is affected by their hormonal growth and therefore expect the same of them as prior generations.

Cut them some slack, with conditions

With more studies showing the validity of these askew teen sleep patterns, hopefully more parents will understand how to deal with it.

Rather than force your teen to go to sleep at a specific time, let them stay up. However, as if dealing with an insomniac, you may want to implement some rules.

To get them “over the hump” of this hormonal sleep challenge, try some of these tips:

  • No electronics after 11pm, including phone, television, music or pc (these bright flickering screens will likely add to their inability to sleep).
  • Encourage reading as this will calm the mind to hopefully get them to slumber.
  • Use essential oils, such as lavender, to spray on their pillow. This oil has been used for centuries to calm the central nervous system.
  • Let them sleep late when they can. This will re-charge their highly depleted “batteries” and just may make them act a little nicer toward you.

Danger zone

Keeping an eye on your teen is one thing but parents have so much to think about they may not realize the dangers of teen lack of sleep.

This is a safety issue that’s getting more attention each year as lack of sleep can affect a teen’s health and decision making.

Some dangers of inadequate sleep amongst teens includes:

  • Sleep-deprived driving (equivalent to driving drunk)
  • Inability to learn, solve problems and listen
  • Acne
  • Aggressive mood swinging behavior
  • Weight gain
  • Increased use of caffeine
  • Repeated illnesses

So it turns out that teens do really need more sleep and we are not spoiling them by proposing school time changes or letting them slumber into the late morning or early afternoon.

The next time your teen won’t listen to your bedtime routine, implement some healthy adjustments and embrace this short transitional change.

Photo by Tobyotter 

1 thought on “Fact or myth: do teenagers really need more sleep?”

  1. “Rather than force your teen to go to sleep at a specific time, let them stay up”

    I have to disagree with this. If I were to just let my son stay up, he would stay up until way after midnight – probably around 1 or 2am. If I allowed this he would be getting 5.5h to 6.5h or sleep – this is nowhere near what he needs. Teens need to be made to follow a strict routine with their sleeping. The 2 major things are:

    1) getting to bed and lights out by a set time

    2) no mobile phones or tablets or computers or TVs or electronic devices etc to be in the bedroom once sleep time is hit – otherwise they won’t sleep – instead they will be messing with their phone and messaging friends and being disturbed by incoming messages etc etc until the early hours.

    The research shows that they have difficulty sleeping before 11pm, so our routine is: 10pm get bag ready for school; 10:15pm prepared school bag to be placed by front door along with mobile phone – phone is to now be switched off; 10:15pm – 10:45pm brushing teeth and using toilet etc; 11pm at the absolute latest to be in bed with lights out (but unless he’s been taking forever to get ready should be in bed before 11pm).

    This routine allows his mind to be off the phone and wind down before getting in bed. Then shortly after he is in bed we hit 11pm; after 11pm he will be more easily able to sleep as that’s when their melatonin starts to do it’s stuff.

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