Sleep. It is something we spend one-third of our lives doing; yet parents and teachers often neglect discussing sleep habits and issues with their children.
The amount of rest we get affects our physical health, mental health and mood, and the ability to learn new things and remember previously-learned information.
Lack of sleep is damaging in all stages of life, but it is particularly detrimental for teenagers, who continually report getting the least amount of sleep. A 2014 survey of American high school students found 90% to be chronically sleep-deprived.
The National Institute of Health in the United States recommends teenagers get at least nine hours of sleep per night.
However, a number of biological and social factors contribute to teenagers not meeting this standard. Puberty affects circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep before 10 or 11pm.
Homework loads become heavier and stress grows as life decisions about higher education and relationships start to come into focus. Teens spend more time in front of screens and less time exercising than recommended, leading to sleeplessness. All of these issues combine and lead to some frightening health effects.
A study of 28,000 suburban high school students, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, determined that each hour of lost sleep is associated with a 38% increased risk of feeling sad and hopeless and a 58% increase in suicide attempts.
Teens who sleep an average of six hours per night are three times more likely to have depression. Younger teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be inattentive, hyperactive, and confrontational. High school students who skip sleep may be at a higher risk of obesity and diabetes, as well at more risk of abusing drugs and alcohol.
So what can parents (and educators) do? First and foremost, parents should create a bedtime routine and a calm and restful atmosphere at home. Help your teenager create a comfortable bed space with low lighting and no screens.
Parents of teens must carefully consider weeknight activities and how late their child will need to stay up to finish homework if they are occupied until late evening. Schools must help with efforts to increase physical activity, limit caffeine use, and discourage smoking, drug use, and alcohol use. All adults can help decrease anxiety in teens by listening and treating them with respect.
We all need to show more understanding – teenagers’ bodies and hormones are changing rapidly and most are not getting the rest the need.
Shannon Brown works in international education in Ho Chi Minh City and has a background in social work, public heath, and early childhood education.