At times, teenagers seem to speak a foreign language consisting of sighs, eye rolls, and shoulder shrugs that can be difficult to decode. But the yawn is one signal that is easily understood. And while a yawn typically signifies a need for sleep, lack of sleep among teens is a bigger problem than a simple nap can solve.
As discussed in the New York Times article, "Hard Lesson in Sleep for Teens" by Jane E. Brody, insufficient sleep can have serious side effects for teenagers. Research shows that the average teen needs between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep each night, but less than 20 percent achieve this goal. Lack of sleep has obvious impacts when it comes to mood and the ability to function, but the consequences don’t stop there.
Academic engagement and achievement are two of the most obvious concerns for parents whose teens are not getting enough sleep. Teens often miss out on sleep because they are over-committed, with too much academic work and too many extracurricular involvements.
Students perform better they get more sleep. Studies have shown that just one additional hour of sleep per night can boost grades and standardized test scores, yet many high schools still start earlier than the recommended 8:00 a.m. wake-up time for teens. While parents cannot change school hours, they can encourage their teens to adopt routines and more positive sleep habits that will be more beneficial to their developing brains.
A second area impacted by inadequate sleep in teenagers is their level of alertness. Being attentive is relevant both inside and out of the classroom, and is particularly significant when it comes to driving—an activity that is often important and exciting to newly licensed teens. Driving without the proper amount of sleep can be fatal, as many car accidents are linked to sleeplessness. According to pediatric sleep specialist Dr. Judith A. Owens, “the level of impairment associated with sleep-deprived driving is equivalent to driving drunk. Would you let a kid drive who just consumed three or four beers? Well, guess what—kids do that every day.”
Sleep is also directly related to health concerns for teens. Insufficient sleep during adolescence has been linked to increased risks of heart disease and high blood pressure, along with Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Furthermore, teens getting less than the recommended amount of sleep demonstrate an increase in risk-taking behavior, depression, and suicidal ideation.
Knowing the disadvantages that sleep-deprived teens face is a step in the right direction. Achieving actual restfulness, however, is not always so simple. Still, teens and parents alike can enact small changes such as establishing an electronics curfew or setting realistic expectations for academic achievement and extracurricular involvement, which can allow more time for necessary, restorative sleep.
Photo Credit: Svein Halvor Halvorsen