Teenager sleeping
Many parents are confused about the sleep patterns of teenagers. They complain that they can’t get their teenager to go to bed at a decent hour and then are not able to coax them out of bed in the morning.

Infants and children are “larks”; They wake early and sleep early

Teenagers are “owls”; They stay up until the wee hours of the morning and awaken late.

Sleep patterns are controlled by a complex web of brain signalling and hormones – they are regulated by maturational stages. This reverts more to the early to bed, early to rise  pattern in adulthood.

  • Teenagers have a delayed release of melatonin (the hormone responsible for sleep) by about 2 hours.
  • Adults, upon waking have no melatonin whereas teenagers are still groggy. It has been noted that in various States in America where the schools delayed the start of school by about an hour academic results were improved and there were fewer motor accidents.
  • Teenagers need so much more sleep than either their parents or their younger siblings because so much is going on in their brains, they are learning so much and at such a fast pace.
  • Sleep isn’t simply a way for the body to relax and recoup after a hard day or working, studying or playing. Memory and learning are thought to be consolidated during sleep; It allows the brain time to convert learning into memories; So it’s as vital to their health as the air they breathe and the food they eat.
  • Sleep also allows them to manage stress.

Teenagers are forced to abide by the adult chronotype (early to bed early to rise) and therefore have to rise early for school. This early rising does not result in an early bedtime;  the teen brain doesn’t adjust at the other end of the day, and instead has a tendency to hold on to that part of it’s pattern.  The result is a shrunken sleep period.  On weekends, however, teenagers typically slip back into late-morning awakenings, as their internal clock prefers

  • If they are allowed to sleep as long as they like, teenagers will get around 9 – 10 hours of sleep per night.
  • If they are made to wake up for school, they are chronically losing 2.75 hours of sleep daily. This is thought to contribute to a chronic sleep deprivation syndrome.

Sleep provides time for the brain to pick out the most salient information from the day’s activities and consolidate that information into memories, discarding the rest. The brain is a finite organ, with a finite amount of space.  The brain simply cannot keep adding synapses as it would soon reach a limit and all learning would cease.  The more you learn, the more you need to sleep, it would seem.

If they don’t get enough sleep?

  • Inhibits the necessary synaptic pruning or prioritizing of information
  • Can contribute to juvenile delinquency, depression, obesity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
  • Eating too much or eating the wrong foods. (soft drinks, fried food, sweets and caffeine.
  • They often engage in less physical activity and spend more time in front of TV and computers.
  • Are two and a half times more likely to report suicidal thoughts than adolescents with good sleep habits.

Physiologically poor sleep can result in:-

  • Skin conditions that worsen with stress, like acne or psoriasis
  • Injuries during sports activities
  • Rise in blood pressure
  • Susceptibility to serious illnesses

Emotionally bad sleep can make teenagers:-

  • Aggressive
  • Impatient
  • Impulsive and inappropriate
  • Prone to low self-esteem
  • Liable to mood swings

Cognitively, poor sleep can cause:

  • Impairment of the ability to learn
  • Inhibition of creativity
  • Slowing of problem-solving skills
  • Increasing forgetfulness.

How Can Parents Help?

  • Take the TV out of the bedroom.
  • The bright LED light of a computer, iPad and smartphone screen needs to be turned off about an hour before bedtime to relax the overstimulated eyes and brain.  It suppresses the release of melatonin by about 22 percent.
  • Ascertain how much homework they have and help them to prioritize. If an assignment includes something creative, suggest it be done first because it involves more complex cognitive skills and more focus.
  • Encourage them to have a routine of winding down at the same time every night. This habituates the mind and body to relax.
  • The bed itself should also be just for sleeping – no eating, tv or even homework.

If your teen has difficulty in relaxing into deep restful sleep I can assist in teaching them this. Call me today on 07708 961 073 to schedule an appointment in Swindon

Read my article to learn more about how the teenage brain differs from the child or adult brain and to understand why teens do the things they do.

Source “The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s survival guide to raising adolescents” by Frances E. Jensen

Hear Frances Jensen’s interview here

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