We think that you’ll agree with us when we say:
Adolescence is one of the most CHALLENGING stages in life.
This is when a person goes through substantial physical, emotional, psychological, and social change that carries on throughout their adult life.
One such change involves a shift in the sleep-wake cycle, which can move up to two hours later both in the nighttime and morning, at the beginning of adolescence.
During this time of change, it is important to ensure that teens or adolescents get the healthy sleep that they need to be able to handle the daily stresses of their ever-increasingly busy lives.
In this article, we’ll be discussing several strategies to help teens get better, longer sleep.
Why Teens Suffer Sleep Problems
Truth be told:
There are many reasons why teens or adolescents have sleep problems. Dr. Adiaha I.A. Spinks-Franklin, who is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine, recently did a presentation on strategies to help teens who are lacking sleep at the national conference of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
According to Dr. Spinks-Franklin, teens have inadequate sleep because of:
- Social media
- Electronic devices in the bedroom
- The pressures and stresses of busy schedules, such as:
a. Academic demands
b. Extracurricular activities
e. Social lives
This is telling because sleeping is an especially popular topic in the pediatric field. In fact, pediatricians often have adolescent patients with insomnia, who have many different sleep issues such as:
- Difficulty with falling or staying asleep
- Waking up too early in the morning
- Restless sleep or sleep is not refreshing
In order to properly evaluate adolescent insomnia, it is important to examine how an adolescent responds to stress, genetic factors, specific insomnia triggers, and factors that prolong insomnia. Dr. Spinks-Franklin believes that all teens with insomnia should be screened and examined for anxiety and depression.
That is because both may affect sleep onset or sleep maintenance, and they are disturbingly common in teens. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 25.1% of children between the ages of 13 and 18 years old are affected by an anxiety disorder.
Isn’t that unbelievable?
What’s even more unbelievable is that the Anxiety and Depression Association of America has stated that about 80% of children with an anxiety disorder and 60% of children with depression are not receiving treatment.
Sleep Deprivation Effects in Teens
Chronic sleep deprivation has a relationship with anxiety and depression that works both ways. What that means is that, while chronic sleep deprivation may be caused by anxiety or depression, chronic sleep deprivation could increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression in the long-term. The more immediately noticeable effects of chronic sleep deprivation include a higher risk of poor academic, work, and/or athletic performance. A lack of quality sleep also affects your brain’s ability to store what it has learned.
Let us explain:
Chronic sleep deprivation impairs your ability to focus and concentrate, which negatively affects your ability to learn and receive information. Learning and memory are usually described in three steps:
- Acquisition – introducing new information into your brain
- Consolidation – the processes by which recently learned information and experiences are encoded into your long-term memory
- Recall – your ability to access the information after its storage into your long-term memory, whether consciously or unconsciously
Acquisition and recall only occur when you are awake. Memory consolidation takes place while you are asleep, by strengthening neural connections that makeup memories. Sleep deprivation causes neurons to be over-connected and overworked, which renders them unable to properly coordinate information.
As a result, you lose your ability to recall this previously learned information. Not only that, but your ability to assess situations, plan and react accordingly are affected, which impair your judgments. As if that wasn’t bad enough, sleep deprivation or low-quality sleep may negatively affect your mood, which also impacts your ability to learn and remember new information. Clearly, it is REALLY important to get a good night’s sleep in order to help you better acquire, consolidate, and recall information.
The Biology of Sleep in Teens
What quality of sleep do teens typically experience, then?
Their sleep-wake cycles shift later in terms of both going to sleep and waking up. Earlier, we mentioned that their sleep-wake cycles shift up to two hours later. Whereas prior to adolescence, it would be natural to go to sleep at 9:00 PM, for teens, it’s natural to go to sleep starting at 11:00 PM and later. That also means that they will wake up two hours later in the morning.
The shift in the sleep-wake cycle leads to a more irregular sleep pattern throughout the week – sleep experts have stated that, on a physiological level, teens want to stay up late and sleep in, especially on the weekends. This can throw off their biological clocks and negatively affect their sleep quality.
The Connection Between Sleep Problems and School
According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens require 8-10 hours of sleep per night for optimal functioning. The CDC analyzed data from the 2015 national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys to discover how widespread the sleep problem of short sleep duration is for teens on school nights among high school students in the United States.
This analysis was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report in 2018. According to this report, it was estimated that 72.7% of high school students in the national Youth Risk Behavior Surveys had the problem of short sleep duration.
Clearly, this is a big issue.
It’s not helped by the fact that schools have early start times because, as we have previously discussed, their cognitive functioning is less than optimal when they do wake up and get to school for the day.
Research suggests that high school students perform better in afternoon classes, and in cognitive tests that are administered in the afternoon. To that point, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine believes that both middle and high schools should shift their start times to 8:30 AM or later.
This would help teens:
- Have a better opportunity to get sufficient sleep on school nights
- Optimize their alertness in the classroom to encourage peak academic performance
- Decrease lateness and absences to promote further learning opportunities
- Support adolescent mental and psychological health
5 Strategies to Help Teens With Their Sleep Problems
There are several different ways that you can help your teen deal with their sleep problems:
- Limiting Caffeine Consumption
- Establishing a Set Sleep Schedule
- Melatonin Supplementation
- Getting Rid of Electronic Devices
- Using Certain Apps or Software
Limiting Caffeine Consumption
According to Dr. Wendy Troxel, who is a clinical psychologist, and senior behavioral and social scientist at the RAND Corporation, the standard response of teens to chronic sleep deprivation is to consume a lot of caffeine.
However, this leads to a state of being “tired but wired,” in which teens are more likely to take risks, which may be dangerous because of the conflict of their sleep-wake cycle with school schedules and academic expectations.
In a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatrics, the researchers examined the trends in caffeine intake among children and teens in the U.S., from 1999-2010. They discovered that about 73% of children consumed caffeine on a given day.
Over this time period, soda intake decreased while coffee and energy drink intake increased. The problem with this is that coffee and energy drinks generally have greater amounts and concentrations of caffeine than soda does. Dr. Troxel participated in a cross-country comparative analysis of the economic costs of insufficient sleep across five different OECD countries. The analysis was published in Rand Health Quarterly.
The OECD is the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, organized to stimulate world trade and economic progress. Within this analysis, the researchers outlined a number of recommendations to improve sleep outcomes among individuals.
One recommendation for individuals is to limit the consumption of substances which may impair sleep quality. This means avoiding or minimizing the consumption of substances close to bedtime, including nicotine, alcohol, and caffeine.
So, are there any guidelines that teens should follow?
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggested that teens should limit their daily caffeine intake to 100 mg because of their greater sensitivity to its side effects. Caffeine intake even within suggested doses during the afternoon and evening could negatively affect sleep quality and duration.
Establishing a Set Sleep Schedule
The analysis published in Rand Health Quarterly also included the recommendation that individuals could improve their sleep outcomes by setting a consistent wake-up time. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s important to set a sleep schedule in order to take control of your sleep-wake cycle. It will gradually adapt to your set bedtime and wake-up time, making it easier for you to fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning.
You need to be sure to stick to these set times as much as you possibly can, and not sleep in for more than one or two hours, at most. Also, it would be best to make gradual adjustments in 15-minute increments to help make it easier for your sleep-wake cycle to adjust.
Melatonin is known as the “sleep hormone.” It is produced by the pineal gland, located in the center of the brain. Although inactive during the daytime for most people, it actively starts producing melatonin during the nighttime, while in darkness. From there, melatonin is gradually released into the bloodstream. Countless studies have shown that melatonin has numerous sleep benefits:
- Puts you into a state of drowsiness to get you ready for sleep
- Helps you fall asleep quicker
- Extends your total sleep duration
- Enriches your overall sleep quality
- Enhances your alertness in the morning
- Treats sleep issues caused by insomnia or jet lag
During a normal night of sleep, blood levels of melatonin will stay higher between the hours of 9 PM – 9 AM for a period of about 12 hours. As the sun rises and daylight comes, the pineal gland will become inactive, and the blood levels of melatonin will decrease to a point that they are barely detectable.
Short-term melatonin supplementation has been shown to be effective in helping children and teens fall and stay asleep, and wake up on time. It is especially effective in children on the spectrum or with a neurological disorder, and in children with chronic sleep-onset insomnia, who have difficulties with falling asleep at the beginning of the night.
But what kind of supplements might be effective?
Liposomal Melatonin Supplements
In the past few decades, Liposomal Melatonin Technology has emerged as a potential delivery system for supplements. That is because of its ability to effectively transport nutrients into the body, and help prevent their premature breakdown by stomach acids.
- Micro-sized encapsulation that protects against the harsh acidity of the gastrointestinal tract
- Increased delivery to cells, tissues, and organs
- Higher absorption rates and bioavailability than other standard oral supplements
- Noninvasive compared to intravenous supplementation
- Lower doses provide the same effects as high-dose standard oral supplements
- Helps put nutrients to use by the body faster
- Prevents gastrointestinal distress usually experienced with standard oral supplements
Clearly, liposomal melatonin deserves serious consideration as a potential sleep aid.
Getting Rid of Electronic Devices
Another recommendation made in the analysis is to limit the use of electronic devices before bedtime. Aside from the urge to check social media, surf the web, or read emails, and the constant notifications, these devices impair your sleep quality and duration through their emission of blue light. The production of melatonin is stimulated during the night time or in a dark environment. Blue light suppresses melatonin production because the brain interprets it as daylight. Your brain will feel active and stimulated, making it difficult to fall asleep.
What can you do, then?
You can turn off your devices during the night and leave them in another room. Alternatively, you can use dark mode or a similar mode that is night-friendly. If you still need an alarm clock, then you can look to a wake-up light alarm clock, or sunrise alarm clock, which uses light to help you gradually wake up. This represents a modern twist on how our sleep-wake cycles were guided by the rising and setting of the sun.
Using Certain Apps or Software
There are certain apps or software that also help limit exposure to blue light. One such app is called f.lux. This app adjusts the color temperature of your computer’s display screen to the time of day and your location. In the morning, the screen will look like daylight. At night, the screen will be warm and look like your indoor lights.
Research suggests that light sources of hotter, higher color temperatures may significantly reduce the amount of slow-wave sleep, which may be important to enhancing overall sleep quality. It is important to use warmer, lower color temperature to make it easier to fall asleep. This can also be done through the installation of light bulbs, or the use of night lights that emit softer, warmer lighting. Incandescent bulbs also work.
Why a Sleep Aid such as Melatonin May Help Teens Sleep Better
Teens need help to deal with their daily stresses of work, school, extracurriculars, and sports.
Quality sleep is important to help optimize their physical, cognitive, and psychological functioning to deal with these stresses.
By using sleep aids, alongside making gradual, positive changes to their nighttime routines, teens will be better able to sleep and wake up feeling refreshed and revitalized.