A good night’s sleep is important for people of any age and year-round, but the importance of quality sleep for teenagers is at the forefront during the school year. It’s never too early – or late – to establish routines and patterns that form sleep habits that lead to restful sleep, allowing each teenager to be alert and focused during their waking hours.
The Benefits of Sleep for Adolescents
- Research has shown that the learning process begun during waking hours continues during sleep, promoting better recall and more complete learning of the day’s lessons in those who get adequate sleep compared to those who do not, in what is termed consolidation, one of the three main types of memory.
- Regular, adequate sleep for adolescents – between nine and 10 hours each night – promotes alertness and motivation for the day’s activities ahead as well as creativity.
- Adequate sleep helps the brain and body produce and regulate a number of hormones associated with functions such as adequate appetite rather than a false signal for the need to overeat; helps to control the over-release of stress hormones that can then trigger an imbalance in the body’s immune system leading to increased susceptibility to infection and/or trigger skin eruptions or acne; or even lead to anxiety or depression.
- Promotes the ability to concentrate, not just on school studies but also for tasks such as sports and driving that require concentration to perform safely and effectively, as well as judgment.
- Restful sleep aids in keeping fine motor skills and reflexes at their best.
Factors That Can Impact Adolescents’ Quality of Sleep
- One of the main factors impacting the quality of sleep that adolescents receive is the quantity of sleep they get. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adolescents require, on average, 9.25 hours of sleep per night. In a study conducted by the foundation, 85 percent of teenagers reported getting less than 8.5 hours of sleep/night.
- Lack of regularity in bedtimes and/or wake-up times: Establishing and adhering to both a bedtime and wake-up schedule is known to be conducive to quality sleep. Too often teens use the weekends, holidays or summer vacations to go to bed much later than during the school week and sleep later than usual. It has been shown that some sleeping in isn’t detrimental, but should be no longer than two hours beyond the routine wake-up time.
- Lack of regularity in a bedtime routine. Adolescents and their parents should plan the evening’s events to promote avoidance of exercise, eating, drinking or homework near the scheduled bedtime. The use of TV, computer, phone or other electronic devices should ideally be stopped at least an hour before bedtime.
- With their busy lives, many adolescents don’t place a high priority on getting enough sleep. Sleep is often viewed as a necessary evil – something that must be done – because the value of quality sleep is not understood or teens have the idea that they can “catch up” on any sleep lost during a marathon session of sleeping at another time.
What Parents Can Do to Promote Quality Sleep in Adolescents
- Understand the value of quality sleep in every individual’s life and the changing needs for the amount of sleep required in different phases of the lifespan. Parents and caregivers should also be aware of each individual adolescent’s sleep needs because not everyone fits into the norm.
- Provide a cool, dry and well-ventilated space for sleep.
- Share what you know about the importance of regular, adequate sleep with your adolescent, explaining on his/her terms what science has revealed about sleep and sleep deprivation. When individuals understand the potential long and short-term consequences of their choices, they can see the value of those choices.
- Model the behavior you would like your adolescent to have regarding bedtime and wake-up routines and times. Actions do speak louder than words, particularly for individuals in this age group.
- When you notice your adolescent is showing signs of sleep debt or deficit, such as increased tiredness, loss of concentration or skin eruptions, mention your observations. Suggest an earlier bedtime for a few nights or a 30 to 90-minute nap in the afternoon as a way to reduce that sleep debt and those signs and symptoms of inadequate or poor sleep.
- Consult your health care provider if your adolescent has persistent difficulties with either not getting enough sleep, sleeping too much, or poor sleep quality.