Sleep is so essential for our physical and emotional wellbeing yet we rarely get enough. Research has found the average adult sleeps less than seven hours, when eight hours is recommended. Teenagers require even more. Demanding schedules and busy lives mean that sometimes sleep moves down the list of priorities or becomes too hard to come by. However, there are many reasons to support the importance of good sleep for teenagers.
Causes of sleep deprivation:
There are scientific reasons teenagers often struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. Puberty hormones mean that a teenager’s body clock is shifted forward by a couple of hours so they feel sleepier later at night, hence the resistance to bedtime and tiredness early in the mornings. Teenagers are constantly in a ‘sleep deficit’.
As a society, we value active lifestyles and prioritise this over good sleeping habits. Busy after-school schedules and co-curricular activities can eat into a teenagers’ down time and sleeping time. Once the days’ activities have been completed, there is often not much time left for sleep.
The constant distractions of entertainment; televisions, phones and computers mean that time that should be spent in bed is lost to technology. Sleep is also impacted by the exposure to light emitted from these sources. It limits the production of melatonin – the sleep hormone that signals to the brain that it is not time to sleep, keeping them awake.
A cycle of bad sleep is hard to break. A sleep deprived brain becomes over active, making it harder to catch-up and fall sleep.
How sleep affects learning:
The Australian Centre for Education in Sleep (ACES) recommend that teenagers should get nine to ten hours of sleep a night but tend to only get the same as adults. A lack of sleep can contribute to a range of physical and mental issues such as stress and reduced academic performance.
Our memory and learning is consolidated during REM sleep; a cycle after deep sleep. With less hours to sleep, teenagers have less time to reach this phase and so cannot strengthen their learning. The more they learn, the more sleep they need.
A teenager’s focus and attention drifts when learning so it is harder to receive information without adequate sleep. Their neurons are overworked and cannot coordinate information properly, losing the ability to access previously learned information. This can lead to memory impairment, lack of enthusiasm and shortened attention span.
How to help your teenager get enough sleep:
- Doing the same thing each night, such as a warm shower or reading, signals to your teenager and the brain it’s time for sleep. Avoid caffeine and stimulating activities, and try and begin this routine ten minutes earlier each night to gradually reach the ideal bed time.
- Encourage a cut off time for light emitting devices 30 minutes before bed. Ensure the room is dark and quiet for the best sleeping environment. Make this part of their bed time routine.
- Allow your teenager to catch-up and sleep in on the weekends but only a little. Very late nights will disrupt the routine so set a reasonable limit.
- Encourage sports and physical activities during the week to ready them for sleep and tire them out. This also helps with stress management and makes them feel more relaxed for sleep.
- Notice signs of stress and anxiety and work with your teenager on time management skills and work load to help avoid your teenager going to bed anxious and restless.
Even an extra 30 minutes of sleep a night can make a huge difference and should be a priority for you and your teenager. Healthy sleeping habits take time to establish – up to six weeks before the results are really noticed. Giving teenagers time to switch off, wind down and sleep solidly for the adequate amount of time will gain benefits in learning, mood, behaviour and performance.
Students at Guildford Grammar School are surrounded by a strong support network and structure to help with any issues and to provide advice for students. Health and wellbeing is central to everything we do, for more information visit Support
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