How Much Sleep Do Teens Need?
Regardless of age, a good night’s sleep is one of the most important things for healthy body function. During sleep, your body conducts vital functions that it cannot easily do during waking hours. How we look, feel, think and perform each day hinges on the quality of our sleep.
Each night your sleep pattern is divided into different stages of alternating REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and NREM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep. These stages alternate throughout the night, repeating themselves approximately every 90 minutes. Each stage of sleep is vital to the health of the body in its own specific way. NREM sleep, which comprises approximately 75% of the night, begins as we fall asleep. During the first 90 minutes of sleep, the body performs several critical functions, including tissue growth and repair, the restoration of energy, and the release of growth hormones essential for growth and development, including muscle development.
What is REM?
REM sleep comprises the other 25% of the night. The first cycle of REM sleep begins approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep and continues to recur every 90 minutes thereafter until morning. The sequences of REM sleep do increase in length as the night progresses to allow the body additional time to restore and repair. During REM sleep, energy is provided to the brain and body, and dreams occur.
Getting enough sleep is integral to proper body functions. When people do not get enough sleep, their brain is negatively impacted, as it is unable to process what they learned during the day and commit those things to memory. Other functions of the body suffer as well. Immunity is compromised, metabolism is affected and symptoms of depression, seizures, high blood pressure, and migraines tend to worsen.
Recommended Hours of Sleep
Everyone, regardless of age, needs sleep to maintain a healthy lifestyle. If sleep is interrupted or cut short, the body does not have time to complete all the functions it needs for muscle repair, memory consolidation and the release of hormones, which regulate growth and appetite. When we wake up after a restless night, we are less prepared to concentrate, make important decisions, or engage fully in social or school activities.
Therefore, sleep is essential to kids of all ages, but teens especially, as they are at a critical time in their lives for learning and growth. The National Sleep Foundation recommends the following sleep ranges for children, teens and adults:
- Newborns (zero to three months): 14 hours to 17 hours.
- Infants (four to 11 months): 12 hours to 15 hours.
- Toddlers (one to two years): 11 hours to 14 hours.
- Preschoolers (three to five years): 10 hours to 13 hours.
- School-age children (six to 13 years): nine hours to 11 hours.
- Teenagers (14 to 17 years): eight hours to 10 hours.
- Younger adults (18 to 25 years): seven hours to nine hours.
- Adults (26 to 64 years): seven hours to nine hours.
- Older adults (65 plus years): seven hours to eight hours.
It is not uncommon for teens to not get enough sleep. One study found that approximately 15% reported sleeping over eight hours on a school night. Across the week, teens tend to have highly irregular sleep patterns. This is due to obligations such as sports, extracurricular activities and homework, as well as desirable activities such as social outings. Teens also tend to stay up late on the weekends and compensate by sleeping in, which has a detrimental impact on their biological clocks and the quality of their sleep.
Risk Factors From Lack of Sleep in Teens
Lack of sleep could have several health-related impacts. In addition to those mentioned above, not getting enough sleep or experiencing sleep difficulties, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, can contribute to additional issues such as:
- Increased acne and other skin problems.
- Aggressive or inappropriate behavior.
- Lack of patience with friends, teachers and family members.
- Unhealthy eating choices.
- Increased use of caffeine or other stimulant products.
- Increased illness.
- Inability to listen, learn and concentrate.
- Dangerous and impaired (due to exhaustion) driving.
How to Encourage Healthy Sleep Patterns
Getting enough sleep is a challenge for people of all ages. Teens struggle for various reasons, as do adults. Below are a variety of ways to encourage healthy sleep patterns:
- Make sleep a priority. Sleep needs to be as important as the other hobbies your teen participates in. Without proper sleep, they will not have the emotional or physical ability to participate successfully in many of the other activities they desire. Talk with your teen about what needs to change to ensure adequate sleep is possible.
- Nap. Naps can be valuable if used properly. A short rest can provide a quick energy boost and make the day go by a little better. However, do not nap for too long, as it can interrupt your sleep schedule.
- Make your space calm. Make your teen’s room a sleep haven. Keep it cool, quiet and dark. If needed, try blackout curtains or a sleep mask.
- Limit caffeine. Consuming caffeine close to bedtime can hurt your teen's ability to sleep. Encourage them to avoid caffeine products such as coffee, soda and energy drinks late in the day so they can fall asleep easier at night.
- Establish a bedtime and wake-up time. Make it part of your routine. This will help to maintain the natural rhythms of their body and will likely increase the health benefits of good sleep.
- Limit what your teen eats or drinks. This is essential to do within a few hours of bedtime. Also, if possible, limit their exercise or physical activity during those hours. Try to encourage them to do their homework early in the evening as opposed to last minute, so they can reduce the time spent on the computer just before bed. Activities involving television, computers, or other electronics tend to be stimulating and can make falling asleep more challenging.
It is also important to note that when teens are sleep-deprived, they are equally as dangerous as a drunk or impaired driver. If your teen is tired, try to limit the amount of driving they do. Statistics show drowsy driving causes over 100,000 crashes each year.
What to Do if Your Teen is not Sleeping Adequately
If you have tried all the above and your teen still seems to be struggling with sleep, it may be necessary to consider a possible underlying medical reason for their sleep challenges. Medical issues such as depression, sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome and insomnia can contribute to your teen's challenge with sleep. If your teen continues to have trouble getting to sleep or is waking up several times per night despite trying to follow healthy sleep habits, a sleep specialist or your primary care provider should be contacted. They can help determine if there is an underlying issue and potentially provide additional suggestions for treatment that may be helpful.