The most Googled personal question worldwide is, ‘Why am I so tired?’ Statistically speaking, those who use this search term are most likely to be between 12 and 18 years old. It seems teenagers are the most tired demographic of all.
Sadly, according to the article Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Young Adults 70% of Australian teens are chronically sleep deprived. This may be double that of any other age group. Many are labelled as depressed, mood-disordered or lazy, when simple exhaustion is to blame.
Adolscence effect on your teen’s sleep
Adolescents are in a biological transition, moving from a childhood to an adult circadian rhythm. This involves a change in the sleep hormone, melatonin. Teenage brains produce melatonin later at night than the brains of children. The peak production of this crucial hormone is between 11am and 8am. This leads to both falling asleep and waking later. However, life doesn’t work to this schedule. Teen’s sleep is usually interrupted with an early alarm artificially signalling the beginning of a new day.
Professor Matthew Walker, author of Why We Sleep writes, “Sadly neither society nor our parental attitudes are well designed to appreciate and accept that teenagers need more sleep than adults and that they are biologically wired to obtain that sleep at a different time to their parents.” This creates a dearth of adequate teen sleep.
Australian paediatric and adolescent sleep physician Dr Chris Seton has identified an additional issue affecting teenagers. Dr Seton uses the term ‘Screenagers’ to describe those whose bedtime is further delayed by the hormonal changes caused by exposure to screens, and so blue light, near bedtime. Blue light suppresses melatonin, and can confuse the brain and blur the boundary between wakefulness and sleep.
Changing rhythms, melatonin and screen use are common culprits, however, there are other issues that might also affect an adolescent’s ability to sleep. Lifestyle factors such as poor time management, high caffeine or sugar consumption, or a late-night part-time job can all contribute to your adolescent’s sleep difficulties.
Consider the possibility that mental illness, worry or stress are keeping your teenager awake. Check environmental factors, too. Is their bedroom conducive to a good night’s sleep? Is it dark, comfortably cool, perfectly quiet, and secure? Do they have a supportive and comfortable mattress and pillow ?
It can be difficult to uncover and resolve teen sleep problems, especially if they’re due to a combination of factors. To combat this, Dr Seton urges parents to help their teen’s as a matter of priority. “The effects of sleep deprivation in teens go way beyond tiredness and academic failure,” states Dr Seton. “They can also include altered body image, school lateness and absenteeism, cyber and non-cyber bullying, depression (15 fold), anxiety, drug-use risk elevation, poor stress coping and more.”
Ultimately, if lack of sleep is affecting your child’s ability to function and thrive, it is essential you consult a relevant health expert as the first step toward helping your teen sleep as well as is possible.