8 Ways Teenagers Suffer When They Don’t Get Enough Sleep
Sleep loss can take a severe toll on the human body, and for teenagers, lack of sleep can be especially dangerous. Sleep is most critical during the teen years, but teenagers are the least likely of any age group to get enough rest. In fact, about 87% of American high school students are chronically sleep-deprived, according to a survey from the National Sleep Foundation.
Why Are Teens Not Sleeping?
While reasons may be complicated, they include:
A biological shift in their sleep schedule. After puberty, there is a biological shift in an adolescent’s internal clock of about two hours. If a teenager used to fall asleep at 9:00 p.m., they may not be able to fall asleep until 11:00 p.m.
Early school start times. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an estimated 40% of high schools in the U.S. currently have a start time before 8:00 a.m. In fact, many high schoolers need to be at school by 7:00 a.m.
Social and Academic Obligations. Homework, extracurricular activities, after-school jobs and the use of technology all contribute to a lack of adequate sleep in teens.
How Are Teens Affected When They Don’t Get Enough Sleep?
1. Increased Mental Health Issues
In 2015, the Journal of Youth and Adolescence found that each hour of lost sleep is associated with a 38% increased risk of feeling sad or hopeless and a 58% increase in suicide attempts.
2. Increase Risk of Injuries
According to a National Sleep Foundation Study, drowsiness or fatigue is the principal cause of at least 100,000 traffic accidents each year. One North Carolina state study found that 55% of all "fall-asleep" crashes were caused by drivers under the age of 25. Parents need to educate their teens on the danger of driving after getting little sleep, just as they would about the dangers of drinking and driving.
3. Bad Behavior
Aggressive or inappropriate behavior such as yelling at friends or being impatient with family members is common when teens don’t sleep for the recommended time. A chronic lack of sleep leads to agitation and poorly-controlled mental and physical impulses.
There are other direct biochemical effects of sleep deprivation involving the irregular distribution of mood-stabilizing, attention-regulating neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
4. Poor Academic Performance
Lack of sleep limits a teen’s ability to learn, listen, concentrate, and solve problems. Teens may forget important information like names, numbers, and homework assignments when they repeatedly get less sleep then they should. Also, teens that sleep better have better memories. This is because sleep stimulates the neurons in the brain responsible for the storage of information in memory.
5. Poor Athletic Performance
Adolescents who don't get enough sleep might be jeopardizing their athletic performances as sleep directly affects how well an athlete performs.
When teens don’t get enough sleep, they are more prone to acne and other skins problems.
7. More Sickness
When teens don’t get enough sleep, it affects their immune system. This predisposes them to more illnesses, including colds, flus, allergies, and rashes.
8. Weight Gain
When teens stay up late completing homework or playing on their phones, they are more likely to snack on unhealthy foods. Eating later in the night also leads to weight gain.
What Can Be Done to Help Teens Get More Sleep?
- Choose a pediatrician who talks to teens and parents about healthy sleep habits, including enforcing a media curfew.
- Parents, coaches, and teachers need education about the biological and environmental factors that contribute to insufficient sleep. Everyone involved in a teenager’s life should be promoting healthy sleep habits.
- Set a bedtime with your teen and try not to shift the sleep pattern by more than two hours on weekends. This is especially important on Sunday. You don’t want them to end up being sleep-deprived right as the week begins.
- Eat a large meal at night, about three hours before bedtime. Teens should only choose healthy snacks such as carrots or a small serving of fruit if they are hungry late in the evening.
- Advise your teen to limit caffeine consumption, as caffeine can make it difficult to sleep.
- Develop healthy ways to manage stress.
- Exercise earlier in the day, no later than four hours before bedtime. Parents can help in educating coaches about earlier practice times for student-athletes.
- If your teen feels unusually tired, it is okay to allow them to nap, but for no longer than 30 minutes.
- Keep your teen's room cool. Sleep occurs faster when the body cools down. It's common for people to wake up when the room they sleep in gets warmer.
Steps are being taken to help teens get the sleep they need. For example, delaying school start times is a way to prevent chronic sleep loss. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports school start times that allow students the opportunity to achieve optimal levels of sleep, about 8.5- 9.5 hours per night.
A 2014 report entitled, "Let Them Sleep: AAP Recommends Delaying Start Times for Middle and High Schools to Combat Teen Sleep Deprivation" promotes starting school at 8:30 a.m. or later. Research suggests that doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents. This will decrease obesity rates, depression, and safety while driving and improve academic performance and quality of life.
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