As students head back to school this autumn, it’s important that they get enough sleep.Teenagers need at least 7 hours in order for proper cognitive function, and most studies suggest that they actually need much more.

The average teenager in Canada currently gets around the minimum required of 7 hours sleep. However, the Sleep Foundation (1) recommends that teenagers need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep to function at their best during the day.

The issue of insufficient sleep is compounded by the fact that during adolescence, natural shifts in a teenager’s sleep patterns make it difficult for them to fall sleep much before 11pm at night.

Add in the tendency to stay up later than this during the week, and the temptation to ‘catch up’ on sleep at the weekends, and the disruption to the internal body clock (circadian rhythm) will affect the quality and quantity of sleep achieved.

Why sleep is important

Sleep is important for a teenager’s physical health and mental wellbeing, as Shashank Joshi, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford, explained in a Stanford Medicine article (2)

“Sleep, especially deep sleep, is like a balm for the brain. The better your sleep, the more clearly you can think while awake, and it may enable you to seek help when a problem arises. … Sleep deprivation can make it hard to remember what you need to do for your busy teen life. It takes away the support, the infrastructure.”

Poor sleep can affect teenager’s health

The disruption caused by lack of sleep shouldn’t be underestimated. Lack of proper sleep in teenagers can result in inability to concentrate, poor school or college grades, incidents when driving, anxiety, and depression. The problem of teenagers getting insufficient sleep is so widespread that a 2014 report on school start times by the American Academy of Pediatrics termed it “a public health epidemic” (3)

The dangers of teenagers driving when tired

The teenager body craves sleep, and so teenagers are much more likely to fall asleep or nap at odd times. This is not an issue at home, so long as naps are not taken too close to normal bedtime, and therefore do not disrupt the sleep patterns. It is much more of a concern for teenagers who are driving home late at night when tired, when they could potentially fall asleep at the wheel of a vehicle. Safety organisations recommend that sleep teenagers should not drive and get a lift from a friend, or ring Mom or Dad!

Blue light and teenage sleep

Many teenagers check their phones or mobile devices in bed at night, or may be working on their computer until fairly late. A review in Scientific American (4) shows that the high levels of blue light emitted by such devices can affect the level of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin.

The effects of the blue light on the natural body clock are not limited to late night blue light, as researcher and Harvard University neuroscientist Anne-Marie Chang explained:

“Light in the early evening causes a circadian delay, or resets the clock to a later schedule; and light in the early morning causes a circadian advancement, or resets the clock to an earlier schedule.”

Chang suggests that if teenagers want to view devices at night, they should turn down the brightness, or use a setting that reverses the text as white on a dark background, to reduce the amount of blue light emitted.

Lack of sleep gives you spots!

There’s one unexpected side effect of not enough sleep that every teenager will listen to – pimples. Lack of sleep has been shown to contribute to skin conditions including acne. So, teenagers really do need their ‘beauty sleep’!

If you are concerned about your teenager’s sleep, or your own, call us at AMG London.

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