Infamous for their mood swings, late nights and late starts, teenagers seem to despise getting up early, whether it’s for school or a summer job. While some see this attitude as a by-product of late nights or just laziness, sleep scientists are now denouncing these views, stating that teenagers actually do have different sleep requirements from adults and children. Today I’m here to explore these requirements and how sleep deprivation could be affecting your teenager’s emotional and physical development.
Trying to pry the average teenager from their bed can feel like a bushtucker trial at times but often without the sense of achievement. For all your troubles, the chances are you spend the morning with a grumpy, irritable adolescent who probably doesn’t appreciate your efforts to get them to school on time in the slightest.
Most of the time this attitude is put down to typical teenage mood swings or seen as a result of late nights spent on their smartphones in bed. However, sleep scientists are starting to delve into the sleep habits of teenagers and they have uncovered some surprising evidence which may suggest that sleep deprivation may be at least partially responsible for your teenager’s cranky moods.
Now I’ve spoken about the circadian rhythm before but did you know that during adolescence, your circadian rhythm changes? Instead of releasing melatonin in the evening, usually around 8 or 9pm, there is a 2 hour delay that means that most teenagers won’t start to feel tired until around 9 or 10pm or even 11 o’clock! This also means that if your teen has to get up at 6/7am in the morning, it’s more like getting up at 4/5am for them!1
This is mainly due to puberty. I probably don’t need to go into all the hormonal changes taking place, but needless to say, your teenagers are developing emotionally, physically and mentally at a rapid rate. Since a lot of this growth will be taking place during sleep, sometimes your teenagers require a little bit of extra time in bed.
Sleep requirements can differ from person to person, even amongst children and adults, but most experts seem to agree that teenagers should be getting around 9-10 hours of sleep, which means that even if your teenager is getting the prescribed 8 hours recommended for adults, they’re still falling short of the amount that they should be getting.
This can cause all sorts of problems and I’m sure you’ve probably spotted the most obvious one. If your teenager is struggling to sleep before midnight and then they have to get up for school for around 7am, it doesn’t take a mathematician to realise that they’re missing out on quite a bit of sleep, which unfortunately, can have a number of unhappy consequences.
Why can't teenagers sleep at night?
This trend of teenagers accumulating a ‘sleep debt’ is growing and it’s been estimated that 60-70% of American teens live with borderline severe sleep debt, which is unsurprising considering that they have to get up quite a bit earlier for school. The negative consequences of this not only can affect their performance at school but also lead to psychological problems such as stress and anxiety.
That’s to say nothing of the dangers that sleep deprivation can present if your teenager has a driver’s license. It’s estimated that driving on only 5 hours of sleep is the same as driving drunk and places not only your teenager, but other motorists, in danger as well.2
For more information, please check out this Ted Talks video wherein sleep researcher Wendy Troxel makes her case for why school should start later for teens. However, early starts and a delayed production of melatonin aren’t the only issues preventing teenagers from sleeping at night. In general, most adolescents have a lot to contend with – schoolwork, social issues, part-time jobs and their own changing bodies. It’s unsurprising that this may result in a few late nights spent staring worriedly at the ceiling, but the methods teenagers use to cope with sleep deprivation could also be causing them harm.
Coffee, energy drinks and sugary treats can all act as stimulants, causing a spike in your blood glucose levels before inevitably leading to a crash. I’ve already highlighted the vicious cycle of sleep deprivation and overeating in one of my previous articles, but it is proven that, over time, repeated consumption of these products can contribute to sleep deprivation and cause all sorts of health problems, especially when it comes to obesity and your insulin levels.
You can’t change your teenager’s school hours but there are other things that you can do to help them and make sure that they’re getting enough sleep. Some of these tips may involve changing certain aspects of their diet or lifestyle, but I promise, these adjustments are definitely for the better.
Make sure they’re eating a balanced diet
If you’ve read any of my other sleep articles this point will hardly be surprising, yet many people are still unaware of how their diet can impact their sleep patterns. Of course, trying to moderate a teenager’s diet comes with its own set of challenges – unlike when they were small children, you probably have very little control over what your teenager eats when they’re not at home.
However, what you can do is make sure that they are eating well when they do sleep under your roof. This includes making sure they’re eating a balance, varied diet chockfull of protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and fruit and veg. Smoothies are a great way of trying to cram nutrients into uninterested teenagers and in the winter, a bowl of veg-packed soup can go a long way.
I would try and make a point of teaching your teenager the basics of cooking – after all, the chances are this is an essential skill that they will need sooner rather than later, and, if they can learn to appreciate good food at home, it may go a long way towards helping their diet once they leave for college or university.
This might seem like an impossible feat; trying to pry fresh meat away from a Grizzly bear might seem like an easier and comparably painless task but there’s definitely a lot of research backing up the fact that smartphones, tablets and computers are bad news for your sleep patterns. This is because they emit a blue light that can inhibit your production of melatonin, making you feel more awake and alert. So if your teenager is already struggling to sleep, lying in bed browsing through Facebook is probably not going to help matters.
Even if you can’t wrestle them away from your teenager completely, at least try to discourage their use and make sure that they’re participating in restful activities before bed – instead of studying up until the last minute or watching television, try to encourage them to read before bed or take a long hot bath to relax.
Talk to them
I’m sure if you reflect on your own experiences as a teenager, you’ll appreciate what a turbulent time this phase can be. A lot of the time, as parents, we can be guilty of talking at our children rather than talking to them so it’s important to establish good communication.
This will ensure they have someone to talk to about any stresses or anxieties that they might be facing, rather than locking up all their emotions inside. If they are struggling, you could even try one of our Bach Flower Remedies, which are completely safe and suitable for teenagers.
You could try Relaxing Essence if they are starting to get stressed before an exam or Mood Essence if they are struggling with low moods or irritation.
Get them out and about
Teenagers have a bad habit of staying cooped up in their rooms, emerging only for food, so try and break this cycle. Getting them out into the fresh air is a good way of ensuring that they’re getting enough vitamin D, not to mention that getting some gentle exercise is definitely a plus!
Exercise not only helps to ward off obesity, it can also improve your teenager’s mood, thanks to the release of happy hormones such as dopamine. One study also revealed that people sleep significantly better if they get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week and may feel more alert during the day.3
Plenty of gyms offer membership schemes for young adults and teenagers, not to mention most schools have after school sports clubs such as football, rugby or netball. Even if your teenager isn’t all that interested in sports, a gentle low-impact form of exercise like yoga or tai chi is still a great option, and teaches relaxation techniques.
If they’re not getting the lie-in they need on weekdays, it might be tempting to let them snooze for a bit longer at the weekends. However, establishing a consistent sleep routine is crucial and a lie-in isn’t always the answer as it can lead to a condition known as ‘social jet lag.’
Social jet lag is caused by irregular sleeping patterns at the weekend, i.e. going to bed later and lying in for longer. It might sound odd that such common habits could possible affect your health but it’s estimated that each hour of social jet leg is associated with an 11% increase in the risk of developing heart disease. Not to mention that adhering to such a sleep pattern at the weekends can cause similar symptoms to insomnia.4
I would stick to trying to establish a regular sleep pattern that doesn’t deviate too much at weekends in order to help your circadian rhythm to remain regular and uninhibited.
If your teenager is still struggling to get into a regular sleep pattern, you could try our Dormeasan natural sleep remedy if they are 18 or over. However, if you’re looking for a natural sleep remedy for a younger teen, you could try one of Jan de Vries’s Bach Flower Remedies, Night Essence.
Suitable for children as young as 2, it contains a soothing combination of Chamomile, Vervain and Yarrow, helping to relax and comfort any symptoms of stress or unease, ensuring a restful night of sleep. It’s particularly useful if you’re overtired or feeling too restless to doze off. 5 drops in a little water 3 times a day is all that is required, although you can also take it during the night if you need to.
“I love the Night Essence! I was able to see results immediately! During those sleepless nights, I can enjoy restful sleep when using this product.”
Join experts Eileen Durward and Alison Cullen in the beautiful A.Vogel garden as they talk about sleep and why it is the one remedy we cannot do without. Discover their tips on how to improve your sleep quality including lifestyle changes and how herbs such as Hops and Valerian can help promote a better night’s sleep.