by Malia Jacobson
Does your teen sleep through the morning alarm, zone out during the day and turn into a cranky pest by nightfall? Then you’re probably one of millions of parents living with an exhausted adolescent. The National Institutes of Health reports that many teens don’t get enough sleep, putting them at risk for health problems and poor academic performance. Why are teens so sleepy?
During the teen years, shifting physiological patterns run smack-dab into the demands of adolescence. Teens’ changing bodies need more rest at a time when classes, homework, sports, jobs, relationships and electronic media all clamor for their attention.
Though teens require at least as much sleep as they did in pre-adolescence (generally between 8.5 and 9.25 hours per night), they habitually shortchange their sleep needs. By 19, they get an average of seven hours per night. In one study published in SLEEP, the official journal of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies, 40 percent of teens went to bed after 11pm on school nights and 26 percent got fewer than 6.5 hours of sleep per night during the week.
Teenage snooze-button addicts aren’t lazy, they’re reacting to a biological urge. According to SLEEP, teens experience a phase delay that keeps them up late and pushes them to sleep in. “This phase shift means that adolescents have a hard time adapting to early morning schedules, particularly in high school,” says Dr. Richard Seligman of the Presbyterian Sleep Disorders Center. Teens fatten up their anemic sleep schedules on weekends by snoozing nearly two extra hours. Instead of helping matters, this sleep windfall makes them feel worse by creating an irregular sleep pattern and a vicious cycle of fragmented and poor-quality sleep.
Sleep-deprived teens are more likely to abuse stimulants like caffeine and nicotine, alcohol and other substances. According to scientific journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, lack of sleep heightens alcohol’s effects in teens, so sleepy teens who consume even small amounts of alcohol heighten their risk of injury.
Problems can also pile up in the classroom and at home. Teens who get less sleep and have irregular sleep schedules report more academic problems than their better-rested peers. Tired teens may be moody and have more difficulty controlling their emotions. “Behavioral issues in this age group aren’t necessarily willful,” notes Seligman. “They can be brought on by chronic fatigue and unrecognized sleepiness.”