According to the National Sleep Foundation, the average teenager needs between 8 ½ and 9 ¼ hours of sleep each night to function at their best. However, studies have shown that only 15 percent of teenagers are getting the recommended amount of sleep.
Not getting the proper amount of sleep can cause dire consequences for teenagers. If students are too tired, they have a harder time learning, listening, concentrating and remembering important information at school. Sleep trouble can also have long-term effects. Abigail Baird, an associate professor of psychology at Vassar College, writes that sleep deprivation in teens can lead to lower levels of Human Growth Hormone, which can harm brain development, physical growth and maturation of the immune system in this Washington Post article.
One of the reasons teenagers have trouble sleeping is due to their biological sleep patterns shifting towards later sleep times during adolescence, making it natural for them to fall asleep after 11 p.m. Between early school start times and extracurricular activities like sports and jobs, teens are losing valuable hours of sleep every week.
Here are steps your teenager can take to get more sleep:
- Turn off the cell phone. Not only can the bright light throw off circadian rhythm, texting during the night makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.
- Turn down the lights and laptop too. The bright white or blue light exposure in these is associated with daylight by our brains. So use an incandescent, not a compact fluorescent or LED, bulb in your teen’s reading lamp, and download software that can automatically remove the blue spectrum light from your laptop screen when the sun sets if there are late homework assignments to be completed (go to http://stereopsis.com/flux/ for a free download).
- Stick to a schedule. If your teen goes to bed late on the weekends and then sleeps all day, encourage him or her to go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This will help to adjust their circadian rhythms to earlier sleep times throughout the school week.
- Avoid long naps during the day. Many students tend to take naps after school to make up for lost sleep, but this might make the problem worse than it already is. A short 15 to 40 minute nap is usually beneficial, but sleeping for too long during the day, or napping too close to bed time, can throw off the circadian rhythm, making it more difficult to fall asleep at night.
- Get up after failing to fall asleep for 20 minutes. Often times, teenagers toss and turn while trying to fall asleep and become frustrated. This is natural, but doesn’t make it any easier to get that much needed shuteye. If they use that time to instead get up and read or do something else that distracts them for a short amount of time, it will become easier for them to finally fall asleep when they go back to bed.
- Avoid stress before going to bed. Teenagers who are busy with school work, jobs and extracurricular activities may spend time stressing over them while trying to fall asleep. A good way to avoid this is to write down everything they need to do the next day so they don’t need to worry about it anymore and can fall asleep.