Sports, job, school clubs, driver’s ed, social life…and homework too? High school is when teens’ lives become more busy than they ever have been! It can be challenging to get adequate sleep with a busy schedule, but sleep is super important for good physical and mental health. With chronic poor sleep, people develop irritability, headaches, and trouble concentrating. Poor sleep can also contribute to more serious problems, like depression, frequent illness, weight gain, or high blood pressure in some people. So, how much sleep do teenagers need? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and American Academy of Pediatrics agree that teens do best with 8-10 hours of sleep daily. Why the range? Everyone truly is different and has different needs. Everyone should aim for at least 8 hours however. What steps can you take to get better sleep?
- The best thing you can do is keep a regular sleep schedule. This means going to bed at the same time every night, and waking up at the same time in the morning. Our bodies like patterns, and naturally follow a circadian rhythm for wakefulness and sleepiness. This rule applies to weekends, too. A lot of people get poor sleep during the week, and use the weekend to ‘catch up’ on sleep. This can help on the weekend, but doesn’t improve sleep during the week. If you can improve sleep patterns during the entire week, you shouldn’t feel the need to catch up on the weekend!
- Another important step for better sleep is getting your mind and body prepared for sleep. Having a healthy bedtime routine is important for young kids, but important for teens and adults, too. Our bodies naturally wind down if we do the same things before bed each night. This shouldn’t include screens however. We sleep best if we stop using all screens (phones, tablet, TV, video games) one hour before bedtime. Studies have shown the light from screens decreases melatonin, a hormone that makes us sleepy at night. Electronic activities are also stimulating to our brains, and make us more alert and awake. So, brush your teeth and wash up, and do a quiet activity before bed. Read a book, have a cup of non-caffeinated tea, do a puzzle or drawing, finish up easier homework assignments, journal, or do yoga.
- Electronics aren’t the only things bad for sleep. Caffeine also impacts sleep duration and quality. There isn’t much known about safe levels of caffeine for teens, but most agree that it should be avoided in anyone with sleep trouble, and in large quantities. This is tricky when caffeine is used to stay more alert due to sleep problems. Unfortunately, studies show that sleep quality is reduced with increasing caffeine use, which equates to worse memory and mental performance. Most teens are probably safe with the equivalent of one cup of coffee daily (~80-100 mg of caffeine). It is best consumed in the morning, to reduce the impact caffeine will have on sleep. However, some people are more sensitive to caffeine, and may need to avoid it completely for good sleep. Watch out for other sources of caffeine as well, including soda, energy drinks, teas, and even chocolate(!) which can impact sleep if consumed in the afternoon or evening.
If you struggle with sleep despite the recommendations above, or feel your sleep trouble is related to depression or anxiety, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider for more help. Better sleep can improve your health in more ways than just feeling well-rested!
Rachel Lewandowski, PA-C
Pediatrics, UnityPoint Health-Meriter