Sleep research suggests that a teenager needs between eight and 10 hours of sleep every night. This is more than the amount a child or an adult needs. Yet most adolescents only get about 6.5 – 7.5 hours sleep per night, and some get less.
Regularly not getting enough sleep leads to chronic sleep deprivation. This can have dramatic effects on a teenager’s life, impacting their mental wellbeing, increasing their risk of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. It can also affect academic performance at school.
Causes of teenage sleep deprivation
Some of the reasons why many teenagers regularly do not get enough sleep include:
- hormonal time shift – puberty hormones shift the teenager’s body clock forward by about one or two hours, making them sleepier one to two hours later. Yet, while the teenager falls asleep later, early school starts don’t allow them to sleep in. This nightly ‘sleep debt’ leads to chronic sleep deprivation
- using screen based devices – smart phones and other devices used around bed time reduce sleep time. Teens who put down their smart-phones an hour before bed gain an extra 21 minutes sleep a night, (that’s one hour and 45 minutes over the school week) according to a study by Vic Health and the Sleep Health Foundation
- hectic after-school schedule – homework, sport, part-time work and social commitments can cut into a teenager’s sleeping time
- leisure activities – the lure of stimulating entertainment such as television, the internet and computer gaming can keep a teenager out of bed.
- light exposure – light cues the brain to stay awake. In the evening, lights from televisions, mobile phones and computers can prevent adequate production of melatonin, the brain chemical (neurotransmitter) responsible for sleep
- vicious circle – insufficient sleep causes a teenager’s brain to become more active. An over-aroused brain is less able to fall asleep.
- social attitudes – in Western culture, keeping active is valued more than sleep
- sleep disorder – sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome or sleep apnoea, can affect how much sleep a teenager gets.