How many hours do you think a teenager should sleep?
The answer might surprise you. Teenagers need 9 to 10 hours, or more, of sleep each night. This is a sobering fact. As parents and we tend to treat our teenagers as younger adults. In truth, there is a lot of brain development occurring in teenagers, all the way into our middle twenties. One of the biggest roles in this brain development occurs during our sleep.
What are the costs if sleep is reduced?
Teenage sadness and hopelessness has continued to increase, as well as teen suicidal thoughts and attempts, each year. Every lost of hour sleep increases the risk of teen suicide, exponentially.
Substance use like drugs and alcohol go up as sleep time goes down.
Sleep loss raises stress levels, ramps up our 'fight or flight' or sympathetic nervous system, decreases the brain's ability to process emotional memories, and amplifies our brain's emotional centers, but in a negative way.
To summarize, reduced sleep in our teens has a negative effect on their brain development. Loss of sleep affects their mood and their ability to handle emotional situations, and puts them at a much higher risk for suicide as well as other mental health problems.
Counsellors and psychologists will focus on different areas with teenagers and their anxiety. A common, and one of the most important I think, is to ask about their sleep. As parents getting a sense of your teenager's sleep can give you insight on how they are doing and even an area to address.
How did you sleep?
Did you have any vivid dreams?
Throughout the week make a habit of asking your teenager about their sleep. When did they get to bed? Do they feel rested?
If your teen is too tired to give coherent answers, then look for other signs that their sleep is not great. In a carpool, or driving your teen to school, does your teenager fall asleep? This is a clear indication that they are not getting enough sleep.
Vivid dreams have been linked to being more anxious. While not always a sign that vivid dreams are related to anxiety research leans more highly to a connection.
Finally, if your teenager is not getting 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night (or more for some teenagers) then they are sleep deprived. The average teenager in the U.S. sleeps 6.5 hours per night during the week.
Sleep is one underlying factor that, if addressed, would have enormous positive effects on our teen’s mental health, but also their performance in school and with sports. In fact, the sleep deprivation that is occurring throughout the globe in first world countries is having enormous negative consequences. It will be decades before we see how much of a negative impact poor sleep is having on our youth. It is also something that can be fixed.
“Imagine an experiment in which researchers forced subjects to wake up three hours before their natural rise time, then asked them to perform complex cognitive tasks, for five days straight. That’s a description of the average teen’s school week.” Heather Turgenev and Julie Wright, The Washington Post
I love this quote from two great counselors that have spent a large portion of their practice focusing on sleep. It is also interesting that when sleep medicine scientists want to test out the negative effects of sleep deprivation on our health, performance, genetics, risk factors for disease, and on and on; this is how they would set up their experiment. We are, in effect, conducting a very harmful experiment on our youth.