Importance Of Sleep In Teenagers

Is your teen getting adequate sleep? It is extremely essential for growing children and adolescents to sleep well. Find out why and what you can do about it. Read on for some great tips!

By Dr Prithika Chary

Importance Of Sleep In Teenagers
Teenagers tend to have sleepless nights during exam time

Sleep is food for the brain. When you sleep, important body functions and brain activity occur. A brain that is hungry for sleep will get it, even when you don’t expect it, and this is particularly true for teens. When the teen does not get enough sleep, he is more likely to have an accident, injury or illness.

Ill effects of sleeplessness

Sleeplessness can make it hard for him to get along with his family and friends, hurt his school examination scores, or his performance in sports. Most teens need about nine hours of sleep a night — and sometimes more — to maintain optimal daytime alertness. But few teens actually get that sleep regularly, thanks to the early-morning classes, homework, extra-curricular activities, social demands, computers and other electronic gadgets.

In a 2017 study titled 'Sleeping habits among school children and their effects on sleep pattern' authors, A Mishra et al, says that Indian students are also sleeping less than the recommended nine hours a night. There is a change in the sleep pattern of adolescents due to changes in the levels of melatonin produced by the pineal gland. This substance influences the body clock which is getting set into the adult mode. Adults need six to eight hours of sleep.

Sleep requirement for different age-groups

Teens tend to ‘wind up’ around 7:30 p.m. while adults tend to ‘wind down’ around this time. Teens then tend to stay awake till 2:00 a.m. This is physiology and is called a sleep phase delay and not impertinence! 

And asking a teen to share a bedroom with a grandparent can be disastrous. After the age of 60, sleep requirement is only for four to six hours and the sleep phase moves backwards leading to early bedtimes in the elderly. 

Sleep is important during the teen years as the growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland during sleep. Long term memory imprinting also happens during sleep. During this phase of rapid learning by the teen and formation and fixation of pathways in the brain, adequate sleep is critical. 

In a 2010 study titled, 'Sleep deprivation in adolescents and adults: Changes in affect', authors Talbot LS et al say sleep deprivation could increase anxiety and depression in children and teenagers. Further, the study states that lack of sleep affects their performance, including their ability to think clearly, react quickly and how they form memories. It makes them irritable and affects their mood too. 

Based on this, controversial as it may sound, we need to take a serious look at school schedules and parental expectations to accommodate the sleep needs of young people.

Changing sleep patterns

Changing sleep patterns in teens is associated with:

  • A delayed sleep phase (a marked tendency for later bedtimes and rise times), which is associated with the onset of puberty
  • Shorter sleep, which is associated with increased levels of daytime sleepiness
  • A steep decrease in delta non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, which is also associated with increased sleepiness
  • Greater tolerance for sleep deprivation or extended wakefulness with maturation
  • Development of irregular sleep patterns among many adolescents (sleeping very little during weekdays and accumulating sleep debt and sleeping longer during weekends and partially compensating for their sleep loss)

If teens need about 9¼ hours of sleep to do their best and naturally go to sleep around 11:00 p.m., one way for them to get more sleep is for schools to have a later start time. Today, teens’ natural sleep cycle puts them in conflict with school start times. Most high school students need an alarm clock or a parent to wake them up on school days. They are like zombies getting ready for school and find it hard to be alert and pay attention in class. On the other hand, studies in the US showed marked improvement in classroom attendance and alertness during classes, when the start time was pushed back by an hour.

Some tips to establish adequate sleep in your teens

  • Sleep hygiene practices are necessary and should become a priority for teens to stay healthy, happy and smart. The teen should try to go to sleep and wake up around the same time every day and help the body clock get set. 
  • Even during weekends, he should stick closely to this schedule to maintain consistency. This way, a routine is set. The teen feels less tired as his body gets attuned with its natural bio-rhythms.
  • Limit the teen’s after-school activities. Advise him to avoid studying and playing video games just before bedtime.
  • Remove the television and the computer from the bedroom.
  • Create a sleep-inducing environment in the bedroom, and insist that the teen uses the bedroom for sleep and rest only. The room should be a sleep haven — cool, quiet and dark. 
  • Darken the room in the evening and let in the sun when the alarm clock goes off. The body’s internal clock is controlled by light and darkness.
  • The teen should finish his exercising (if any) and dinner (which should be light), two or three hours before an ideal bedtime.
  • Likewise, he should schedule his homework and other activities, so as to not intrude into his bedtime.
  • He should avoid the TV, smartphone and computer an hour before he goes to bed. 
  • She should stick to quiet, calm activities before sleeping. Routine activities every night will make her body trigger the cues that induce sleep. She could try taking a shower or reading a book.
  • Caffeine can hurt sleep, so he should avoid coffee, tea, soda and chocolate late in the day. Nicotine and alcohol also interfere with sleep.
  • Naps can help the teen work more efficiently if he plans them right. Naps that are too long or too close to bedtime can interfere with his regular sleep.
  • No pills, vitamins or drinks can replace good sleep. The teen could try keeping a diary or to-do lists. If he jots down notes before going to sleep, he’ll be less likely to stay awake worrying.
  • When he hears friends talking about their all-nighters, he should tell them how good he feels after getting a good night’s sleep.
  • Do not have an argument with your adolescent before bedtime. It can wait till tomorrow — when it may also be more reasonable on both sides. Impossible as it may seem, it is still possible to do all the above.

Also read: How Sleep Helps In Brain Development

So, teens need to schedule more study time over the weekends, instead of late at night. They should spend more time outdoors with nature if possible, be physically active, eat sensibly and get the required amount of sleep. Then both health and performance can win. Sweet dreams!

Dr Prithika Chary is a neurologist and neurosurgeon from Chennai

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