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Let’s Talk... Teens and Sleep

21 May 2019

We were all teens once, but if you haven’t noticed or were not a typical teen, then you might be surprised to hear that teens are just wired differently.

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Teens have a very different body clock, and then there’s the effects of sleep deprivation!  On average, teens need between 8 to 10 hours sleep a night, yet most teens only get about 6.5 – 7.5 hours sleep per night, and some get less. Teens tend to come alive at night, and want to stay up later, and then struggle to get up in the morning. 

Scientist David Bainbridge, author of "Teenagers: A Natural History" believes this is due to a 'rewiring' of the brain in adolescence which may mean that the teenage body clock runs more slowly than an adult's, making the day seem longer. When it's 8am for the rest of us, to a teenager, it feels more like 6am. David also says that teenagers haven't yet developed the mechanism required for registering fatigue. "They just don't realise how tired they are," he says. Then, they struggle to wake up in the morning because their bodies simply need more sleep. 

The importance of sleep
Teenagers need extra sleep to help them change into adults. The time shift could also be explained by simple social issues like young people trying to stay up later than their parents or socialising late.

Other factors like artificial light also disrupts sleep patterns. Normally, when light dims in the evening, we produce melatonin which tells our bodies it’s time to sleep. But bright room lighting, TVs, phones and computers can all emit enough light to stop the natural production of melatonin, tricking our bodies into staying awake.

Regularly not getting enough sleep leads to chronic sleep deprivation. This can have dramatic effects on a teenager’s life, impacting on their mental health, increasing their risk of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. It can also affect academic performance at school. Given that a number of students are revising at this time of the year and exams are looming  – the right amount of sleep is crucial.

Preventing sleep deprivation in teenagers – tips for parents:

  • Allow your child to sleep in on the weekends.
  • Encourage an early night every Saturday. A late night on Saturday followed by an early Sunday morning will make your child drowsy for the start of the school week.
  • Decide together on appropriate time limits for any stimulating activity such as homework or screen time. Encourage restful activities during the evening, such as reading.
  • Help your teenager to better schedule their after-school commitments to free up time for rest and sleep.
  • Assess your teenager's weekly schedule together and see if they are overcommitted. Help them to trim activities if they are.
  • Encourage your teen to take an afternoon nap after school to help recharge their battery, if they have time.
  • Work together to adjust your teenager’s body clock. Remember, there's a biochemical reason why teenagers are more wakeful at night and sleepy in the mornings.  If you’re worried about your child’s sleep patterns and the impact it’s having on their overall wellbeing, please speak to us or arrange to see the family doctor.


BIS Abu Dhabi Counselling Team