The Risks of Sleep Deprivation in Teens

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Teens go through significant physical, social, and emotional changes as they transition into adulthood and getting enough sleep is particularly important during this period. Teens between the ages of 13 to 18 are generally recommended to get between 8 to 10 hours of sleep at night. However, it is common for teens to get much less than this and experience sleep deprivation. 

Not getting enough sleep can have many effects on a teen’s day-to-day life. Teens who are sleep deprived are more likely to feel worse during the day and perform poorly in school. Chronic sleep deprivation may also increase the risk of long-term health complications.

While sleep deprivation is common and can bring about many unwanted effects, there are a number of healthy habits that parents and teens can adopt to better manage their sleep.

The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on Teens

As children develop into teens, they begin taking on more responsibilities and expectations from those around them. At school, teens are constantly learning and processing new information. At the same time, they are forming new relationships and figuring out who they are. 

Sleep deprivation can make these changes more difficult while impacting a teen’s mental and physical health.

  • Accidents and Injury: A lack of sleep can increase the chances that teens will engage in risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving, while also reducing reaction time. This can make teens more prone to accidents and injuries.
  • Poor Mental Health: Teens who do not sleep enough may experience a decline in mood. Sleep loss can even lead to symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety.
  • Behavioral Issues: Teens who are sleep-deprived may have behavioral issue and have difficulty maintaining positive relationships with their peers.
  • Poor Academic Performance: Not sleeping enough can cause issues with concentration, problem-solving, motivation, memory, and organizational skills. These can lead to poor grades.

Chronic sleep deprivation that occurs over a long period of time has also been linked to certain medical conditions.

  • Obesity: Teens who do not sleep enough tend to overeat and consume unhealthy diets. This can lead to long-term weight gain and increase the risk of obesity.
  • Hypertension: Research suggests that a lack of sleep may be linked to salt retention and stress. These and other effects of sleep loss can make people more prone to developing high blood pressure.
  • Diabetes: A lack of sleep can make it more difficult for the body to regulate blood sugar, which can increase the risk of diabetes.

How Common Is Sleep Deprivation in Teens?

Sleep deprivation is very common among teens. Experts recommend that teens between the ages of 13 and 18 get between 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night. About 58% of middle school students report getting less than nine hours of sleep and nearly 73% of high school students report getting less than eight hours of sleep.

Sleep needs vary from person to person and some teens may be able to function on less sleep than others. However, the vast majority of teens who don’t get enough sleep report signs of sleep deprivation. This includes feelings of tiredness during the day and difficulty concentrating in school.

Why Don’t Teens Get Enough Sleep?

There are a variety of reasons why teens don’t get enough sleep. As teens begin to make more of their own decisions, bedtimes tend to get progressively later while wake times are often driven by school or work schedules.

Later bedtimes in teens are partially related to natural changes in circadian rhythms that happen around puberty. Circadian rhythms help signal the body when to sleep and when to wake up. As these signals drift progressively later during the teenage years, it’s normal for teens to fall asleep and wake up at later times.

At the same time, teens often have to wake up early for school. Some experts recommend that school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later to give teens enough rest. However, about 93% of high schools and 83% of middle schools start before 8:30 a.m., which makes it difficult for teens to get the sleep they need.

Teens are also in a stage of their development in which they are encountering new challenges and forging an increased sense of autonomy. These important aspects of development can also lead to feelings and behaviors that interfere with sleep.

  • Stress: Teens may take on more responsibilities as they get older. They may have more homework and start feeling more pressure to maintain family and peer relationships. These new responsibilities can cause stress that can make it more difficult to sleep at night.
  • Texting and Social Media: Teens may feel pressured to keep up with their peers through texting or social media. Communicating with their peers during the evening and night can make it more challenging for teens to relax before bedtime and fall asleep.
  • Poor Sleep Hygiene: Teens may use technology or watch television too close to bedtime or even while in bed. Teens may also consume caffeine too late in the day. These habits can make it harder to fall asleep at bedtime.
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The Importance of Sleep for Teens

As teens mature into adulthood, their bodies and minds are changing rapidly. Getting the right amount of sleep benefits nearly every part of the body and supports healthy adolescent development. Sleep helps teens:

  • Grow and develop physically 
  • Build a healthy immune system
  • Reduce the risk of health issues 
  • Learn and retain new information 
  • Solve problems and be more creative 

How Can Teens Get More Sleep?

People of all ages can benefit from practicing good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves the habits that people carry out during the day and before bedtime. Certain habits can help promote better sleep, while others can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

Tips for Teens

Teens can work on improving their sleep hygiene by:

  • Avoiding caffeine intake and large meals close to bedtime
  • Going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day
  • Getting sunlight exposure and physical activity early in the day
  • Creating a relaxing bedtime routine
  • Limiting the use of phones, computers, and TVs close to bedtime
  • Avoiding activities in bed other than sleeping, such as homework, eating, and watching TV

Tips for Parents and Caregivers

Parents and caregivers who notice that their teen may need some help adopting good sleep habits can also implement some changes within the home.

  • Creating a Helpful Environment for Sleep: Parents can ensure that their teen’s sleep environment is comfortable and good for sleep. This can consist of removing TVs from bedrooms, adjusting temperatures, and making sure there are no unnatural sources of light during the night.
  • Modeling a Consistent Sleep Schedule: Parents can model healthy sleep behaviors to their teens. Adhering to their own regular bed and wake times every day can teach their teens to do the same.
  • Enforcing Bedtime Rules: Setting limits to a teen’s use of their phone or computer before bed can help them fall asleep earlier. Parents can also help teens avoid bedtime procrastination by discussing their school, social, and athletic obligations and making adjustments.

Teens who find that adopting healthy sleep hygiene practices doesn’t improve their sleep may benefit from speaking with their health care provider about further assessment and treatment options.

About The Author

Katherine Zheng

Staff Writer, Sleep Health

Katherine is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She has doctorate and bachelor’s degrees in nursing and is published in the journal Administration and Policy in Mental Health and Mental Health Services Research and the journal JMIR Mental Health. She has also worked as a policy fellow at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. With a background in academia, Katherine has always been interested in making healthcare research more accessible to the public. When not writing, Katherine is an actor and loves doing theater at night.

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