07 Oct The destructive impact of sleep deprivation on teens (and how to avoid it)
As a parent, you may have noticed that your teenager often seem moody or easily agitated. Though teenage hormones are often blamed, a lack of quality or quantity of sleep can often be the culprit. The negative impacts of sleep deprivation on teens can also quickly escalate, affecting not only their quality of life but also their families.
It’s no surprise that a lack of quality AND quantity of sleep can lead to chronic sleep deprivation in teens. However, what’s lesser known is that this destructive cycle can in turn lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, aggression, and cognitive impairment. Sleep deprivation can also cause irritability, mood swings, and problems with concentration. Performance in school, sport, or participation in social activities can substantially decline too.
If left unaddressed, it may also contribute to serious health problems in the long term, such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
We’re often asked how much sleep do teens need, and most teenagers need around 8 to 10 hours of sleep every night. This is more than a child or adult needs, but many teens only get 6 or 7 hours. The timing of their sleep is also very important. Humans are hard-wired through our hormonal patterns to feel sleepy once it gets dark, and to feel awake once the sun comes up. Our period of deepest, restful sleep typically happens between 10pm and 2am, so this is when teens need to be sleeping most.
Creating good sleep patterns like these is one of the focus points of our Junior Leadership Programs, but here are some simple steps that any teen can take to improve their sleep.
Bring awareness to the impact of sleep deprivation on teens
The first step is helping your teen notice and understand their own patterns and how it might be impacting them. Often teens lack self-awareness of their own routines and behaviours, so by shining light on the problem they can begin to take responsibility for their choices.
Creating a sleep diary (even on the fridge) that notes when they went to bed, when they got up, and how they felt can start to bring awareness to the issue.
Encourage consistency with sleep patterns
Our bodies love consistent routines, particularly when it comes to when we go to bed and when we get up in the morning. By going to bed at the same time each night, the circadian rhythm patterns in teens become stronger and they’ll be able to fall asleep faster.
Similarly, by setting an alarm every morning and getting up at the same time, teens will find they wake up with more energy and not need to sleep in.
Reduce blue light exposure before bed
The biggest challenge teens face in the modern world is the introduction of artificial light, particularly from blue light screens like TVs, mobile phones and computer monitors. The blue light from screens can disrupt the body’s natural circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep at night.
This is why it’s important to limit screen time in the hours leading up to bedtime. Even though teens are often reluctant to go to bed early, it’s generally because they want to spend time on their phones or other screens. If they feel the need to do this, encourage them to limit screen use to earlier in the evening and avoid blue light exposure for at least 30 minutes before bed.
Lead by example
Now that you’re aware of some of the healthy habits that can be created for a great night’s sleep, modelling these behaviours for your teen can be extremely powerful.
Explain to them the choices that you make and why, so they can begin to form a connection between their own choices and the natural consequences. Once your teen sees that you’re “walking the talk” and reaping the benefits, they’re much more likely to want to try this for themselves.
With these simple changes, your teen can start to avoid the negative impacts on their behaviour and mood that come from a lack of sleep.
If you’re looking for further help or support for your teen in this area, then take a look at our Junior Leadership Programs.