Teens and Sleep

Posted by Darian Dozier on Mar 25, 2022 7:17:00 AM

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Teens are going through a very weird time in life where they are trying to figure out who they are, who they want to be, and some of that process may involve some defiant behaviors and attitudes. One of the things they may rebel against, or have trouble attaining, is sleep. Teens need sleep just like kids any other age, but there are a number of barriers that may be disrupting that. Continue reading to find out more about teens and sleep.

The Importance of Sleep for Teens

Sleep is very important for individuals are all ages. Teens, however, have a lot of development (mental, physical, social and emotional) that require great amounts of sleep. 

Sleep benefits the brain, promoting attention, memory and analytical thought. It makes thinking more sharp and consolidates all of the learning and memory that took places throughout the day. Sleep can also promote expansive thinking and increase creativity. Whether it's studying for a test, learning to play an instrument, or acquiring skills, sleep is essential. 

All of these functions that take place during sleep can make it more evident why those who don't get enough sleep often struggle academically and in other aspects of their lives. 

Emotional health is also determined by sleep. Lack of sleep can negatively impact mood, causing Irritability and exaggerated emotional reactions. Consequences can be great, over time, for those who are adapting to more independence, responsibility and new social relationships. 

Prolonged sleep loss may lead to negative emotional development, increasing the risk for interpersonal conflict and more serious mental health problems. Mental health disorders have routinely been linked to poor sleep, and severe increasing sleep deprivation can increase the risk of suicide. 

Physical develop is also rampant in teens and sleep is required for proper development. Those who fail to get enough sleep have a concerning metabolic profile that can put them at higher risk of diabetes and long term cardiovascular problems. 

Sleep deprivation can also affect development of the frontal lobe, part of the brain responsible for impulse control and decision making. Those who don't get enough sleep engage in risk behaviors like drunk driving, texting while driving, riding a bike without a helmet, risky sexual behavior, fighting, drug and alcohol abuse and others. 

Insufficient sleep can also make teens prone to accidental injury and death. Drowsy driving is an area of concern as it is associated with elevated risk of accidents. Studies have found that sleep deprivation can reduce reaction times similar to that of drunk driving. Teens already have little experience with driving and a higher rate of drunk driving, so adding sleep deprivation on top of that can be very dangerous. 

The lack of sleep in teens 

Many teenagers are not getting the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep a night. Almost half of the teens in a Sleep in America Poll are getting less than 8 hours of sleep a night. The problem may be getting worse as the incidents of insomnia and sleep deprivation are on the rise. 

Insufficient sleep is higher among girls and older teens get less sleep than those in early adolescence. Minority teens have the highest rates of sleeping less than eight hours per night. 

Why getting sleep is so hard for teens

Teens have a myriad of reasons as to why getting sleep is so hard for them. Some of these are physiological and some of them are behavioral. 

Biological clock 

One reason is that the body tends to move towards a later chronotype during adolescence. This means they tend to stay up later and wake up later. However, school start times make it harder for teens to get their recommended number of hours of sleep because they start way before most teens' bodies are ready to wake up. So teens just aren't able to fall asleep early enough to get enough sleep before they have to be at school. 

To make up for this, teens may try to get extra sleep on the weekends, but then continue to throw of their sleep schedules with inconsistencies. 

Distractions and busy schedules

Another reason why teens have such trouble falling asleep is because their plates are so full, sleep may come second. Between school, household obligations, social lives, and other activities, it can be hard to find time to sleep. Many teens don't allocate sufficient time for sleep. They may stay up late during the week to finish homework or during the weekend when hanging out with friends. Pressure to do a lot of things, and do them allwell, can be stressful, another component adding to their insomnia. 

Electronic devices are another source of distraction keeping teens from getting enough sleep. Screen time late in the evening can cause sleep problems as it delays the release of melatonin. So there are these kids who already have a late time clock, extending that due to light exposure. 

Health related problems 

Sleep disorders are another reason that teens have trouble sleeping. They may not be diagnosed, but obstructive sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy can all affect teens. OSA is excessive snoring and airway blockage, creating fragmented sleep. RLS is a sleep disorder that involves a strong urge to move the limbs when lying down. Narcolepsy is a disorder affecting the sleep-wake cycle. 

Mental health problems severely affect tens, and conditions like anxiety and depression can be challenging to quality sleep. Insufficient sleep can also exacerbate these issues meaning that it's a continuous cycle. 

Neurodevelopmental issues, like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder can make sleep difficult for teens. Lack of sleep may also contribute to more pronounced symptoms of these conditions. 

How teens can get better sleep

Poor sleep in teens doesn't have to be a permanent fact of society. There are steps that adults can take to ensure that teens are getting the sleep that they need.

If disorders are affecting your teen's sleep, then medications may be the best initially therapy. Behavioral and cognitive treatments can follow after any uncontrollable biological factors are accounted for. 

Another good idea is to have teens look at their sleep hygiene: their pre-bed routines, their environment, and any parts of their sleep that could be taking away from the quality. This includes including sleep in their busy schedules, coming up with a pre-bed routine, and removing any distractions from their rooms, including electronic devices. Teens should also avoid caffeine and make sure to silence any phones or anything while they are sleeping. 

Parents can help by first asking their teens about their sleep and if they think they are getting enough. Many parents don't realize that their child is having sleep problems, and many children may not know that their sleep patterns are abnormal and suboptimal. 

Parents can encourage their teens to see someone if the problem is health-related. Parents can also demonstrate good sleeping patterns by including sleep in their busy schedules, establishing a pre-bed routine, and reducing electronics in the bed. 

Parents can also advocate for later start times and other structural adjustments that can help their teen get better sleep. 

If you feel as if you child's sleep problems are health-related, then please click on the orange button below to speak with a health professional at our clinic! 

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