Squeezing in Sleep: Tired Teenagers and Poor Sleeping Habits

by Baylor Scott & White Staff on January 18, 2013

in Healthy Living

sleepSaturday morning comes and your teenager is acting like a zombie. You glance at the clock and realize it is almost noon, and you go to wake him. He pulls the covers over his head and moans. He just wants to sleep.

As a parent, you may feel helpless. Somewhere in the middle of activities, sports, school and socializing, your teen is fighting to get adequate sleep.

Much has changed since you rocked that teenager in your arms as an infant. During those early stages of development, it was obvious that your baby is growing and sleep was essential. What you may not realize is sleep is equally important for the teen.

“The two age groups who require the most sleep are infants and teens,” says Dr. Christopher Spradley who specializes in pulmonary and sleep medicine. “It is widely accepted among sleep experts that teenagers should ideally be getting as much as nine hours of sleep a night. This is in stark contrast to the heavy schedule of activities and responsibilities held by the modern teen that make this goal seem un-achievable.”

Teenagers are often squeezing in a few hours here and there and often fall short of nine hours. Their day usually starts early with school, activities, extra-curricular demands, homework, family time, socializing and distractions before bed.

Benefits of Sleep

Although there is much to balance in the life of a teenager, sleep should be a priority. Dr. Spradley says sleep is viewed as an absolute necessity based on a number of experiments and studies. It is necessary because sleep is the time when the body heals, grows and re-charges.

He says sleep is thought to consolidate memory (REM sleep) and support the immune function and physical health. In addition, appropriate sleep improves productivity, health, physical development and mood.

“Teens need sleep more than most,” he says. “More often than not, they are also the ones who are most sleep deprived.”

Skipping Out on Sleep

Unfortunately, sleep is not like a bank account, says Dr. Spradley. Missed sleep can never be truly replaced.

He adds that erratic sleep schedules can also disrupt the circadian rhythm, or normal sleep cycle, possibly even leading to lifelong poor sleep.

“The average teen has a tendency to become sleepy later in the evening and the waking signal tends to occur later in the morning,” he says. “This does not fit well with the usual sleep schedule imposed by society. As a result, late bedtime and early rising compresses available sleep time.”

If you’re wondering about sleeping in and disturbing your teen’s sleep cycle, Dr. Spradley says occasional sleeping in may be helpful if sleep deprivation is prominent.

Inadequate sleep leads to:

  • inattention
  • depression
  • weight gain
  • increased risk of accidents
  • poor performance with cognitive activities and recall
  • increased reliance on stimulant products like caffeine

Significant sleep deprivation or sleep debt can lead to:

  • impaired immunity
  • depressed mood
  • irritability
  • short stature through impaired growth
  • impaired muscular development
  • increased obesity
  • poor performance in school
  • poor recall
  • increased risk of accidents

Improving Sleep Habits

“Teens need a great deal of sleep. Much more than they or their parents realize,” says Dr. Spradley. “Sleep should be a priority.”

If you’d like to help improve your teen’s sleeping habits, consider these tips.

Some ideas of improving sleep from Dr. Spradley include:

  • Establish a regular schedule of sleep and wake time
  • Encourage a set bedtime schedule
  • Allow for occasional sleeping in but don’t let them overdo it
  • Maintain a cool, dark sleeping environment that is relatively noise free
  • Exercise in early evening or a hot shower before bed can help
  • Avoid bright lights or computer screens close to bedtime
  • Discourage late night technology utilization and monitor internet access, games, or other activities on smart phones that may keep your teen up late

For more ideas or resources about sleep, visit our sleep disorders resource page.

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