Why Do Teenagers Sleep So Much?
A common question uttered by parents as they struggle to get their child out of bed and through the door
May 11th, 2021 •
Most everyone enjoys sleeping in from time-to-time. Still, it seems like nobody can shine a candle to a teenager’s persistent desire to sleep. Counterintuitively, it’s this same group that wants to stay up late, night after night, in spite of having classes early the following morning.
Why is it that teens seem to always be sleepy during the day, alert at night, and comatose come morning? We’re here to share with you the secrets that explain teen sleep patterns.
The Complicated Relationship Between Teens and Sleep
Teenagers need more sleep than adults do. Sleep is the time when the body and brain rest, recover, and grow. And as all parents know, teens have a lot of growing to do.
On average, teens require between 8 and 10 hours of sleep every night. The trouble is, they rarely get it, and they don’t hide their sleep deprivation well. Without enough sleep, teens are likely to be fatigued, distracted, and moody.
Over time, the consequences of sleep deprivation can become hard to ignore. According to a survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, teens who slept less were more likely to suffer from depression. And drowsy driving can end in tragedy.
So, why is it that teens struggle to get the recommended 8 or more hours of sleep each night?
For most, the troubled relationship with sleep begins during puberty when their biological clock shifts. We each have an internal clock (known as the circadian rhythm) that is responsible for our sleep-wake cycles. This body clock is pushed back two hours once puberty hits.
Rather than becoming sleepy at 8 or 9, a teen is more likely to get tired at 10 or 11. And with school starting early, it’s next to impossible for kids to get the sleep that they need regularly.
As a result of mid-week demands and the resultant sleep deprivation, many teenagers sleep well into the afternoon on weekends. It can be hard to strike the right balance here. The ideal is for your teen to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, sleeping between 8 and 10 hours. But for many teens, that regularity is too high of a bar to reach.
Tips for Helping Your Teen Get the Sleep They Need
Some level of sleep deprivation may be an unavoidable consequence of growing older. But there is still value for parents and teens to work together towards setting a healthy sleep schedule. Here are some tips for doing so.
- Schedule Wake Times: During both weekdays and weekends, set scheduled wakeup times. Ideally, these times would be the same throughout the week, but you may need to be flexible. Do not have these times vary by more than two hours.
- Set an Ideal Sleep Time: Teen sleep needs to be scheduled according to when school starts. Set a bedtime that allows a minimum of 8 hours of nightly sleep. Some flexibility here may be necessary when your teen has a particularly busy schedule.
- Create Healthy Habits: If your child has difficulties falling asleep, limit light exposure and stimulation an hour before bed. Try to avoid electronic devices altogether. When they must be used, have them set to night mode.
Causes of Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
It can be easy to write off teens’ daytime sluggishness, moodiness, and fatigue as an unavoidable consequence of the cacophony of hormones and lack of sleep. But sometimes, daytime fatigue can be caused by another underlying factor.
If you find that your kids struggle with sleepiness no matter what steps you take, it might be time to figure out if there’s another cause. Be on the lookout for the following.
Many common medications can result in daytime fatigue. They can directly cause drowsiness or inhibit sleep, leading to fatigue the following day. Medications that can cause drowsiness include antihistamines, ADD and ADHD medications, antidepressants, and cold medicines.
Sleep disorders are often undiagnosed in children and teenagers. The difficulty is that every child is different, and it’s hard to tell what’s normal. Because most teens struggle with chronic sleep deprivation, it can be tough to tell the difference between an actual sleep disorder or lifestyle-induced sleep troubles.
There are a few things that you and your family can do to identify the cause. These include knowing what the common sleep disorders look like and using lifestyle changes to try and rule out run-of-the-mill sleep deprivation.
1. Obstructive Sleep Apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition that results in an inability to get enough air during sleep. Soft tissues block the airway, resulting in snoring and frequent waking to allow for breathing. If your child snores loudly, it would be a good idea to have them examined by their doctor to be tested for sleep apnea.
2. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)
Restless leg syndrome is a disorder where a creepy, crawly feeling is experienced in the legs or arms when lying down. RLS symptoms are often overlooked during adolescence because discomfort in the limbs is common as teens grow. But if your teen complains about a weird feeling in their legs and moves them around at night, they may have RLS.
Narcolepsy is a condition marked by excessive daytime fatigue and fragmented sleep. Teens with narcolepsy may suffer from vivid hallucinations when they fall asleep. They can also experience sleep paralysis. When awake, some people with narcolepsy will have a sudden weakening of muscles during times of emotional extremes.
4. Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
Older children and teenagers can experience an abnormality in their biological clock that results in their being unable to fall asleep before the early morning hours. These teens would be able to get proper sleep if they could go to bed late each night and sleep in each morning, but our current way of life does not allow this. Boys are more likely to experience delayed sleep phase syndrome than girls are.
Psychiatric disorders like depression and their relation to sleep are tricky. Sometimes depression can cause insomnia, and sometimes poor sleep can result in depression. If your teen is depressed, it is important that you visit their physician.
Insomnia is a condition marked by an inability to sleep well during the night. This can involve trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. Insomnia can be a sleep disorder itself, or it can be a sign of other sleep disorders or poor sleep hygiene.
Caffeine, Alcohol, and Nicotine
Substance use contributes to trouble sleeping. Caffeine can make it hard to fall asleep at night, leading to a need to sleep in each morning. Similarly, both alcohol and nicotine use disrupt sleep and cause daytime fatigue.
Excess daytime sleepiness is common among teenagers, even those who seem to get enough sleep. Work with your teen to set healthy habits. If you are worried that there might be something else going on, talk with your child’s physician. Proper sleep can make all of the difference in your teen’s happiness and quality of life.
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