Teenage Sleep Requirements, Lack of Sleep, Ensuring Teens Get Enough Sleep

There are several questions parents ask about the sleep patterns and requirements of school aged children and teenagers.

Parents know that the sleep patterns of children changes dramatically when they become teenagers. When children are young they wake early and wake everyone else up at dawn or some ungodly hour, even on weekends.

How much sleep do you really need
How much sleep do you really need. Source: author
REM sleep
REM sleep. Source: author
Teens and night owls and early birds at the same time
Teens and night owls and early birds at the same time. Source: author
Poor attention span is a consequence of lack of sleep
Poor attention span is a consequence of lack of sleep. Source: author

After puberty the pattern changes - they go to bed later and later, often after their parents go to sleep. Many play computer game late into the night and work late on assignments left to the last minute. They sleep-in and it is a daily struggle to get them out of bed and off to school or college each morning.

There is a large collection of research and lots of anecdotal information that confirms that many teenagers simply do not get enough sleep. This can cause all sorts of problems with their health, can trigger weight gain, can cause depression and social exclusion and can impairing school performance and may be the cause of mood swings and communication issues. Many parents don't know what to do about it.

How much sleep do teenagers need?

According to the US National Sleep Foundation, newborns should sleep about 12 to 18 hours, reducing to 12 to 14 hours for children aged 1 to 3; 11 to 13 hours for preschoolers 3 to 5; 10 to 11 hours for schoolchildren ages 5 to 10; teen (10-17) 8.5 to 9.25 hours and adults 7-9 hours.

As children grow and mature as adolescents, both the stages of sleep and the sleep cycle remain largely unchanged. But REM dreaming changes throughout life (see table). Another major change is the timing of their sleep - their circadian rhythm. The preferred times for going to sleep and waking are generally delayed in most adolescents. Most high school students go to bed much later at night because their internal clock is reset and they don not feeling sleepy until later. Caffeine laced drinks and adrenalin rushes when playing games do not help.

Many school start times are generally much earlier than the typical teenager's natural awakening time. Consequently, many students are woken up early and have lack of sleep problems. Exposure to bright artificial indoor light in the evening can make things worse as the internal clock does not set properly. Most students attempt to catch up on their missed sleep by sleeping-in much later on the weekends, but this only puts their internal clock further out of whack with their weekday schedule and makes it harder to get up during the week.

A pilot study of 100 teenagers looked at the suggestion that increased technology use and relatively high caffeine consumption at night by drinking energy drinks could be the cause for some of the lack of sleep and associated problems. The Table shown below is adapted from this study Adolescents Living the 24/7 Lifestyle: Effects of Caffeine and Technology on Sleep Duration and Daytime Functioning .

The study showed that 87% of the students had a sleep deficit of at least one hour compared with the recommended nine hours, and 15% slept for less than five hours. More than half has difficulty getting to sleep on week nights and about a third has fallen to sleep at school. About 80% consumed caffeine and the majority has cell pones and televisions in the bedroom.

Table 1. Teenage Sleep Duration and Possible Causes

Television in bedroom
Computer in bedroom
Cell phone
iPod or MP3 player
Drinks caffeine
Difficulty falling asleep-Week nights
Difficulty falling asleep-Weekends
Hard to stay awake during day
Hard to stay awake during school
Fell asleep during school
Sleepy before lunch
Sleepy after lunch
Naps after school
Naps on weekend
Sleep Duraion on school nights 3-5 hours
Sleep Duraion on school nights 6-8 hours
Sleep Duraion on school nights 8-10 hours

How much sleep are your children getting? Do you really know?

How can you and your teenage children better understand how much sleep they are getting and to become aware of their sleep deficits? One suggestion is to use a diary to record the seep patterns over week or a fortnight. If they are willing, get them to do it themselves. Record lights-out times, how long it takes to fall asleep, wake-up times and whether they woke up themselves. This diary will provide a very good base for the child to discover their sleep patterns,. Schools and other organisation should be encouraged to run similar surveys for their classes to increase the awareness of the issue of sleep deficits and the effect it can have on health, well-being and performance at school.

How does lack of sleep affect their health and well being?

There are many studies on this. James Maas, who is a sleep researcher at Cornell University has stated that most teenagers are effectively “walking zombies” because of their lack of sleep. Many studies have shown that more than 85 percent of teenagers slept less than 9 hours a night, and about 10 percent slept less than 6 hours, only two-thirds of the average requirement. One study found that high school students that had lower grades slept about 30 minutes less each night and went to bed more than 30 minutes later than those who got the higher grades.

The worst and most obvious consequences of lack of sleep are the increased risks of injuries and deaths caused by lapses in attention and delayed reaction times, such as while driving. 

How does lack of sleep affect their performance at High School or College 

Sleep deprivation has four major effects on learning.

After five nights during the week with too little sleep, many teenagers try to catch up on their beauty sleep on the weekends, sleeping-in until 11 a.m. or noon, and sometimes later. But this solution can have negative consequences because it further disrupts their biological clocks and can make it even harder for them to get up on time during the school week.

How does lack of sleep affect their mental state and mood?

The other major consequence of sleep deprivation in teenagers include an erosion of happiness and feelings of well-being. There is also an enhanced risk of depression and other mood disturbances especially for those with an existing vulnerability.

How does lack of sleep affect their social interactions?

Lack of sleep affects how teenagers interact with their peers and may lead them to decline may opportunities to interact socially with their friends. If the teenage is tire and irritable they are less likely to be liked and to make friends.

How can parents ensure they children get enough sleep? What can be done?

School in many districts that have adopted later start times. These schools and colleges have reported improvements in average grades, a decline in dropouts and some reduction in the number of traffic accidents. It can be done simply with minimal disruption. For example, by taking 5 minutes off the time between classes and reducing the lunch break, one school avoided having to extend the finish time for the school, which would otherwise have interfere with sports programs, jobs and other after school activities.

How can Teenagers be encouraged to have more sleep? 

Some suggested Improvements are:

Inadequate sleep linked to poor grades and poor health in teenagers
Inadequate sleep linked to poor grades and poor health in teenagers. Source: Public Domain
Late nights leads to poor sleep patterns an inattention in class
Late nights leads to poor sleep patterns an inattention in class. Source: Public Domain
One thing leads to another. The vicious cycle causing inadequate sleep in teenagers and health problems
One thing leads to another. The vicious cycle causing inadequate sleep in teenagers and health problems. Source: Source: Public Domain
The Night Mare
The Night Mare. Source: Public Domain
Health problems linke with the obese child
Health problems linked with the obese child: Public Domain
Poor attention in class can be linked to lack of sleep in teenagers
Poor attention in class can be linked to lack of sleep in teenagers. Source: Source: Public Domain