“Adolescence is a period of rapid changes. Between the ages of 12 and 17, for example, parents age as much as 20 years.”
Adolescence is arguably the most important and most difficult stage of human development, that is when attempted naturally. It gets even harder, though, when key growth ingredients are left out and odds and ends that slow growth is added in. Sleep, perhaps chief among those considered most critical to full and healthy teenage growth, these days gets the shortest of shrifts.
During adolescence, the body’s internal biological clock (circadian rhythm) resets, or changes. This clock is the one that tells the teenage mind and body when to sleep and when to wake up, which in the case of pre and post-pubescent teens (12-18 years of age), involves getting sleepy later and sleeping in longer.1
Scientists say this change is the temporary result of natural pubertal changes in the human body (hormonal secretions), which unfortunately throw off natural sleep patterns. In other words, even though it is a by-product of a natural part of human growth, it is still not optimal for a properly developing “tweener” mind and body. Universally, teenagers have a harder time falling asleep, which results in their bodies trying to make up for the lost time sleeping in the next morning.
With all the physical, psychological and social growth the human body attempts to accomplish over the course of a very short six years, a shortage of sleep can severely impact an individual’s optimal development of their identity and independence, not to mention the proper growth of their bodies and minds, and their emotional and social well-being as well.
“Sleep is key! Without it, everything related to growth gets messed up.”
anonymous junior high school teacher
Good sleep for the teenage years averages out to be a little more than 9 hours a night.1 Good sleep for teens involves starting and ending at regular hours every night. Good sleep means if your teen has to get up at a particular time in the morning, he or she must go to bed early enough to log those 9-plus hours. Good sleep involves a quiet, relatively dark, comfortable and safe place to enter into a fully restful sleep.
“Sleep is not about just shutting your eyes and opening them in the morning…There’s [lots of important] stuff [that has to go] on…Anything that interrupts [the normal pattern of good sleep] will cause sleepiness [and other malfunctions] the next day.”
Dalia Lorenzo, M.D.
The typical results of teens not having a good night’s sleep include: falling asleep during the day, feeling irritable and moody, being aggressive and impatient, having difficulty concentrating or staying on task or even moving clumsily and slowly.
Obstacles to a Good Night’s Sleep…Insomnia
Insomnia is the word used to describe anything that makes it difficult to fall asleep, to sleep soundly, or to stay asleep. What follows are the most common obstacles adolescents face when they most need to sleep:2
- Inconsistent Sleep Routine
- Poor Overall Diet
- Little if Any Exercise
- Caffeine or Sugar Consumption Before Bed
- Unresolved Conflicts During the Day
- Anxiety Over Upcoming Events
- Persistent Problems in Peer and Family Relationships
- The anticipation of Big Change
- Electronic Usage Before Bed
- Being Overweight
- Obstructional Sleep Apnea
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Syndrome
- Periodic Limb Movement Disorder
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Drug and Alcohol Use
- Medicinal Effects
- Overly Excited
- Exercising Before Bed
- Bright Light
- Making Up for Lost Sleep by Sleeping In
Home Remedies that Work
Many sleep problems can be taken care of at home by doing the following regularly:2
- Regular Sleep Schedule
- Keep the Lights and Sounds Low
- Room Temperature Must be Just Right…For You
- Room Comfort and Safety
- Take a Warm Bath or Shower Before Bed
- Eat a Cereal or Bread Item Before Bed
- Prayer or Meditation as You Drift Off to Sleep
- White Noise Helps
- Shut Off All Electronics an Hour Before Bed
Please know your teen will likely disregard any effort to remedy their sleep inconsistencies. Their solutions will include sleeping in, which only compounds the problem, and even arguing that watching Netflix helps them drift off easier. Further, older teens might attempt medicinal means to help them get in some winks. None of these work. Don’t be fooled.
If You Need Medical Help
If you’ve tried everything and your teen still can’t sleep in a healthy manner, see your doctor. There may be a more serious health problem involved. Medicine or some other sort of medical assistance (sleep devices) may be necessary. Even some type of psychotherapy might be needed.
1 “Common Sleep Disorders in Teens,” WebMD.
2 “Sleep Problems,” Kids Health.