How Much Sleep Do Teens Need?

Being a teen is a delight, isn’t it?

You can defy the laws of sleep and then get to brag about it to your friends. There are no worries or obligations; no boss breathing down your neck with deadlines and definitely no waking up early to beat the morning traffic to work.

Having a bedtime is for babies, I used to think. You can survive on only two hours of sleep or less, I thought.  And then I grew up.  I wish ‘teenaged me’ could read what is in this article, maybe I could have turned out better?

How Much Sleep Do Teens Need?

Teens need a little more sleep than adults and a little less than babies.  The current recommendation for this age group is 8 – 10 hours. Unfortunately, most teens are sleeping way less than the recommendation with only a few sleeping a lot more than this amount. One study showed that only about 15% of teens slept eight and a half hours on a school night.

All the things they get to do on the internet and social media keep them from sleeping in adequate quantities. However, not getting enough sleep has its effects – and they aren’t good ones.  

What If They Sleep Too Little?

Sleeping too little in teens has about the same psychological effect as it has on adults. The effect on their bodies, however, is a different matter.

During sleep, the brain rests and resets itself. It transfers information from the day into the long-term memory compartment. The body on the other hand grows, repairs, strengthens and rejuvenates itself.

Teenagers are growing at a very rapid rate, with the brain and body doing a lot more than they did since the newborn period. Their bodies are growing, hormones are raging, social life is picking up, and school is stressing them out. On top of that, their ‘sleep clock’ is shifted forward about 2 hours so its much more difficult for them to sleep early and wake up early.

This means the brain has a lot more to store and the body needs a lot of rejuvenation. If the teen sleeps adequately, there’s no problem and development can occur the way it should.

When the sleep cycle doesn’t go the way it should and the teen sleeps too little, these processes the brain and body go through during sleep can’t happen properly. These then lead to some of the following

1. Lack Of Concentration

Concentration is needed to understand what the teacher is saying and what is being studied. A loss of concentration will make learning difficult.

2. Poor Memory

Memory is needed to pass exams. You have to remember what you studied to pass the exam! Adding this to loss of concentration means that grades will drop.

3. Irritability

Crankiness is bad for social life. Poor sleep leads to snapping at friends, teachers, and family.

4. Tiredness And Falling Asleep In Inappropriate Places

 This could be very embarrassing, especially for someone with a budding social life.

5. Acne And Bad Skin

Poor sleep is a factor in the development of acne. Teens are already prone to acne and skin diseases; not sleeping enough just tips them over into having bad skin. This is not good for morale and self-esteem.

6. Increased Appetite And Weight Gain

Constant tiredness causes the body to crave carbohydrates and sugars to give it an energy boost. Stress hormones (which have a side effect of weight gain) are also released to help increase energy levels. This combination causes increased appetite and weight gain. This is also bad for self-esteem and social life.

7. Prone To Infections

In simple terms, good sleep equals good body; bad sleep equals bad body. Poor sleep has been associated with an increased rate of infections such as the flu and common cold. Also, being sick in and out of a hospital is NEVER good.

8. Bad Choices

This is actually a big one. Studies have shown that sleep-deprived teens are prone to risky behaviors such as drinking, drunk driving, driving fast and doing extreme stunts (which they are usually untrained for).

What If They Sleep Too Much?

In the rare case where a teen oversleeps, it’s usually on the weekends. This is done to catch up on all the lost sleep over the weekdays. However, if the teen constantly sleeps in excess of 11 hours daily, there may be a medical condition that needs to be investigated such as

  • Depression
  • Anemia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Obstructive sleep apnea, especially if there is heavy snoring.

If you suspect there is a medical problem with regards to your teenager, it’s always better to consult with your doctor to investigate.

 If there is no medical condition, then it may just be that your teen likes to sleep and all you need to do is to set some ground rules. They may not like it, but its best for them. Help them understand that sleep is designed for moderation; no shortage, no excess.

I Am A Teen, How Do I Make Sure I Get Enough Sleep?

The first step is to decide you want to sleep well. Once this is settled, the rest is sort of easy. I say sort of because getting enough sleep as a teenager requires some sacrifice. Some of these sacrifices include

  • Make a sleep schedule and then stick to it. If you have to be up by 7 a.m. to make it to school on time, then your bedtime should be around 10 p.m.; that gives 9 hours of sleep.
  • Don’t sleep in on the weekends. Stick to your schedule, it helps your body adjust to the schedule faster. It also doesn’t confuse your sleep clock.
  • Here’s the big one…No phones, TV or computers one hour before bed. The artificial light from these devices keeps you revved up. In the hour before bed, you should be winding down so sleep comes easier.

 

  • No heavy meals just before bed. A large meal around bedtime keeps you from getting a good night’s sleep.
  • No alcohol, nicotine or caffeine. As a teen, you really shouldn’t be using these substances, but just in case… alcohol and caffeine keep you awake but tired, therefore you can’t sleep well at night.
  • Don’t do any other thing in bed but sleep including studying. This is to allow your body to associate you lying in bed with sleep. This helps you get to sleep faster.  
  • Have a bedtime routine. For example, take a warm bath, drink some warm milk or hot tea and then read a book just before sleep. The process helps your body wind down as it comes to realize that the sequence of activities means it’s time for sleep.

 

  • Keep your lights dim with your room cool and comfortable around bedtime. This relaxes your body and mind, readying you for sleep.
  • Don’t get into bed stressed. Distract yourself from the stressor and when you calm down, get into bed.  Do something to calm yourself down; for example, yoga, scented candles, meditation, prayer.

Sleep is a priority for teens. It is necessary for their growth and development. It allows them to adjust to all the changes they are going through. Adequate sleep of 8 – 10 hours daily results in a healthy and happy teen.

Dr. Oyinkansola Kolawole

Dr. Oyinkan has a degree in medicine and surgery. Her passion in life is to help people in all the ways she can including breaking down difficult to understand medical facts into simple and fun bits of information.

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