Teens and Sleep

by Lucie Hemmen on February 26, 2012

You know you’re parenting a teen when you hear: 

“But I’m NOT TIRED!”

and unlike earlier years, when she was eyes closed/mouth agape two minutes later, your teen actually means it.  It’s 11 p.m. and she’s still moving around the house…..keeping YOU awake.  What’s going on with teens and sleep anyway?

As it turns out, the teen brain is changing as dramatically as the teen body.  Something called a Phase Shift occurs which means teen brains release melatonin (the brain’s sleep serum) a full 90 minutes later than adults or pre-teens.  Right about the time your brain craves blissful slumber, your teen’s brain craves Netflix instant view and a little Facebook time!  The cruelest twist? When teens are rousting themselves awake for a day at school, their brains are STILL releasing melatonin.  Yikes!  You can imagine how that affects everything from learning to morning car accident rates among teen drivers.

Sleep experts say that while many teens are able to survive on too little sleep, they actually need nine hours to function well. Mood, memory, growth, learning, test scores, and emotional control all take a serious hit when teens don’t get enough sleep.  The next time your teen has a meltdown, forgets something important, or under-performs on a test, consider sleep deprivation to be a possible culprit.

To support teens, some schools are changing start times to a more brain friendly hour. In 2002 Kyla Wahlstrom and her research team at the University of Minnesota Center for Applied Research and Education reported that when a high school in Minnesota changed its start time from 7:25 to 8:30, math SAT scores of the brightest students bumped up 56 points and verbal SAT scores bumped up 156 points! Those students also reported higher motivation and lower levels of depression.  Hopefully results like this will lead to later start times for high schools across America.

More from sleep research:

  • According to surveys of the National Sleep Foundation, 90% of American parents think their child is getting enough sleep.  Interestingly, 60% of high schoolers report extreme daytime sleepiness.  Up to 33% of teens admit to falling asleep in class at least once a week.
  • Teenagers are the most sleep-deprived segment of the population.
  • Teens who get less than nine hours sleep, when given the opportunity to sleep in midmorning, tend to fall straight into REM sleep (an active, dream inducing stage of sleep), a sign of severe sleep deprivation.
  • Teens who don’t get adequate sleep do less well in school and score higher on tests measuring sadness or hopelessness.
  • Sleepy teens experience emotions that are less controlled and more exaggerated.
  • Without enough sleep, the brain doesn’t have enough downtime to “retune”.
  • Sleep deprivation is correlated with a range of hormonal dysfunction including elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol and an impaired ability to process glucose, a condition that can contribute to obesity and type-2 diabetes.

In my next blog, I’ll share ideas to coax teens into better sleep habits.  If you have any tips, please leave a comment and I’ll include it in Part 2 of this blog.  Thanks and Sleep Well!



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