Posted on: March 30th, 2022

BY: Pillars Staff

Sleep can impact thinking, emotional health, physical health and development, decision-making skills, and reaction times. Almost all teenagers are not receiving an adequate amount of sleep due to a variety of reasons. Everyone has an internal body clock, which helps regulate sleep, as well as chemicals, such as melatonin, cortisol, and adenosine. Rhythm and timing of the body clock change with age. Think of teenagers as being in a different time zone, which is why they tend to stay up later and sleep in longer. Most teenagers get between 6.5 to 7.5 hours of sleep a night, while they actually need 8 to 10 hours for healthy development.

Why is sleep important?

Sleep is important for “recharging” and restoring key functions for our brain/frontal lobe. Sleep is a key component of improving our executive functions such as concentration, attention, judgment, and decision-making skills.

Common behaviors you can see with teens not receiving enough sleep include:

  • “Drifting off” in class, daydreaming, flight of ideas, decreasing grades or school performance.
  • Increased risk for poor decision-making, giving in to peer pressure, experimenting with alcohol or substances, or choosing to engage in behaviors that have a high potential for consequences.

Sleeping is a major way our brain stores our short-term to long-term memories. It also influences our ability to retrain and recall information. This can have a large impact on how teens are retaining information over time. Common consequences for teens can include increased errors on tests, forgetfulness, maybe even panic/anxiety related to studying or test taking.

Prolonged lack of sleep influences our emotional health as well as our physical health.

Changes in emotional health can include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxious mood
  • Irritability
  • Erratic behavior
  • Poor cognitive functioning (forgetfulness, making mistakes, slower thinking)

Risks to physical health:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Inflammation

Sleeping can influence our motor functions and reaction time which is essential for keeping us safe. Common signs include slower physical reflexes, clumsiness, reduced sporting performance, and fatigue while driving. This poses an increased risk for injury.

What causes teen sleep deprivation?

  • Hormonal time shift (e.g., teenagers’ body clocks are one to two hours ahead of adults)
  • Screens/Light exposure (e.g., blue lights suppress the production of melatonin which is a chemical that signals drowsiness)
  • Schedules (e.g., extra-curricular activities, homework, etc.)
  • Leisure activities (e.g., playing video games, watching movies, not wanting to get off social media, etc.)
  • Vicious circle (e.g., sleep deprivation can cause a brain to be more active and an over-active brain may cause difficulty falling asleep)
  • Social attitudes (e.g., Western culture tends to value being active over sleep)
  • Mental health issues (e.g., anxiety, depression, trauma, etc.)
  • Sleep disorders (e.g., restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, etc.)
  • “Social Jetlag” (e.g., an adolescent may be up late hours during the weekend and have to shift back to an early school start)

Signs of Sleep Deprivation

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Trouble concentrating or remembering
  • Irritability
  • Need for caffeine or other stimulants to stay awake
  • Need for naps after school
  • Poor grades
  • Trouble sleeping. This includes problems falling asleep or staying asleep.

Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene is the habits that help individuals have a good night’s sleep that includes having a bedroom environment and daily routine that promote consistent, uninterrupted sleep.

Ideal sleep hygiene includes:

  • Healthy Habits during the day
  • Stable sleep schedule
  • Comfortable bedroom, free of disruptions
  • Relaxing Pre-bed routine

Tips/Techniques to Improve Sleep in Teens

Pro-sleep habits during the day

  • Plan for eight hours of sleep-in daily schedule
  • Maintain regular sleep and wake schedule
  • Exposure to light immediately in morning
  • Avoid caffeine and energy drinks
  • Take early afternoon naps
  • Be active
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime
  • Avoid alcohol & smoking

Bedroom environment

  • Keeping the bedroom cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Comfortable mattress and  pillow.
  • Use the bed only for sleeping.

Strategies to help develop good sleep hygiene

  • Education on the importance of good sleep & negative consequences of poor sleep
  • Education on good sleep hygiene
  • Education on relaxation technique
  • Sleep Journal & Dream Journal
  • Teach adolescents time management

Mindfulness and Sleep

Mindfulness is a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment. Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. Here are some examples of mindfulness practices teens can incorporate into their routines:

  • Settling the mind through pre-sleep dialogue or journaling
    Cultivating ‘Focused-Spacious Awareness’ through breath
  • Utilizing body scanning and progressive muscle relaxation
  • Implementing breathing techniques into a daily routine
  • Practicing guided imagery