Teens Need More Sleep

Fifty brain chemicals have been identified as having a role in making the brain feel drowsy.  Many
of these brain chemicals also have a role in building brain connections.  Due to all of the
changes occurring in the adolescent brain – including dramatic changes in the brain’s sleep
systems – teens need substantially more sleep than do adults.  Starting around puberty,
melatonin, a hormone that helps to induce sleep, is released two hours later at night and stays
in a teen’s brain later into the morning, as compared to the brain of a child.  Consequently,
teens do not feel tired until later at night and have a harder time waking up early.  The deepest
form of sleep, called slow wave sleep, will decrease by as much as 40 percent during
adolescence.  Due to the transition in slow wave sleep, some childhood sleep problems, such as
sleep walking and wetting the bed, will resolve. However, adolescence is also the time when
other sleep problems, such as narcolepsy and insomnia, may emerge.

Adequate sleep is essential to brain maturation.  Teens function best with about 9 hours of
sleep each night.  In one study of high school students, the majority of teens were sleep
deprived and 20 percent fell asleep in class (Carskadon, 2002).  Sleep deprivation can
compromise teens’ ability to concentrate.  Sleep deprivation may cause some teens to present
with symptoms similar to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); or it may exacerbate
symptoms of ADHD.  Adolescents who get less than six hours of sleep each night are more
likely to report symptoms of depression than are teens who get more sleep.  Research also
showed that teens who are sleep deprived are less able to control their emotions and are more
likely to become angry or aggressive.

The following strategies can be used by educators and healthcare providers to help teens
maximize their potential and get the sleep they need:

  • • Discuss the value and benefits of getting adequate sleep with teens and their parents.
  •   Sleep contributes to a healthy brain, a stronger immune system, less stress, and better
  •   memory functioning.
  • • Teach interactive subjects that involve movement, such as physical education, art, dance,
  •   and band, during morning class periods to help awaken the adolescent brain and body.
  • • Conduct a sleep assessment for teens who are doing poorly in school, having behavioral
  •   difficulties, or experiencing depression or other mental health concerns.  Ask these
  •   teens how many hours they are sleeping each night and what they do before bedtime to
  •   relax and unwind.
  • • Encourage teens to avoid stimulating activities close to bedtime.  Activities to avoid
  •   include playing computer games, exercising, and drinking caffeinated beverages, including
  •   energy drinks, coffee, or sodas.  Encourage teens to find ways to wind down before bed,
  •   such as reading or taking a hot shower.
  • • Encourage parents to let their teens sleep in on the weekends.