Importance of Sleep for Teenagers
Getting enough sleep is important for people of all age groups. Sleep contributes to effective functioning of all body systems including the immune system. In teenagers, good quality sleep is especially important for physical health, emotional and mental development, and school performance. During the teenage years, sleep benefits brain development and function, which enhances attention span and improves memory and cognitive abilities. Adequate sleep also supports the physiological growth spurt during the teen years.
Sleep deprivation, on the other hand, leads to drowsiness, lack of attention, and affects academic performance. Inadequate sleep in teenagers has been linked to increased risk of depression and behavioral problems as well as increased risk of developing diabetes and hypertension. It is also shown to have a negative impact on athletic performance.
The National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend that teenagers sleep between 8 and 10 hours each night to maintain good health. However, most teenagers get far less than the recommended hours of sleep every night. This is partly due to the natural shift in their circadian rhythm, which makes it difficult for them to sleep before 11pm. They have a natural tendency to stay up late in the night and sleep in longer during the morning. Other factors contributing to sleep problems include an early start at school, a heavy workload of homework and school assignments, disproportionate extracurricular activities, a busy social life, and an excessive use of electronic devices. Teenagers may end up staying late at night to fit in many of these tasks or to hang out with friends at night during the weekends, which can all leave them sleep deprived.
Tips for parents to help teenagers sleep better
Parents need to be role models by leading a healthy lifestyle - adhering to a regular sleep schedule, exercising every day, and eating healthy. Some practical measures can be followed by parents to improve sleep patterns in their teenage children:
- Talking to teenagers about their sleep pattern and daily routine will help them understand whether they are facing any sleep problems. It would be helpful to make them realize the importance of sleep and how much sleep is needed each night for them to stay active and alert during the day.
- If teenagers are overloaded with homework and assignments in addition to other extra-curricular activities, it would be a good idea to work out priorities and develop a schedule that includes adequate sleep hours.
- To avoid drowsiness during the day, encourage teenagers to take a ‘power’ nap of 30-45 mins after school.
- Allow teenagers to sleep for an hour longer (and not more to avoid social jetlag) during the weekends to compensate for the sleep debt accumulated during the weekdays.
- Set time limits for screen use and devices; texting, playing games or watching videos close to bedtime keeps teenagers awake, delays onset of sleep, and can make them anxious.
- Encourage teens to engage in restful activities like light reading (fiction or comics) or doing some relaxing meditation before going to bed.
Tips for teenagers to sleep better
- The blue-light emitted from electronic devices suppresses the body’s ability to produce melatonin – the sleep-inducing hormone – making it tougher to fall asleep. Avoid the use of electronic devices, such as smart phones or television, at least an hour before bed. Putting devices on silent will help avoid distraction from notifications.
- Set up a regular wake-up time and bedtime. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule by incorporating the required hours of sleep every day of the week including weekends would benefit health. Teenagers who push bedtime significantly during the weekends find it difficult to return to the regular school sleep schedule. This might lead to problems like irritability or drowsiness at the start of the week.
- Follow a bedtime routine like taking a warm shower or having a hot milky drink or engaging in calming activities like meditation or gentle yoga.
- Avoid stimulants like coffee, tea, soft drinks, and energy drinks, especially in the evening.
- Maintain a cool and dark bedroom and use a good supportive mattress and pillows.
- Staying active during the day and engaging in at least 60 minutes of physical activity will also help improve sleep at night.
Sources: Hopkins Medicine | The National Sleep Foundation | Department of Health - Victoria State Government
Contributors: Ms. Anupama Jithesh, Dr. Karima Chaabna, Dr. Sathyanarayanan Doraiswamy and Dr. Sohaila Cheema
Editing: Mr. John Hayward