Factors Affecting Adolescent Sleep
It’s important to remember that teens are at an important stage of their growth and development. Unfortunately, there are many social and cultural forces that limit their sleep:
- Circadian rhythm shifts. After puberty, adolescents experience a biological shift in their internal clock of about two hours. This means that a teenager who used to fall asleep at 9:00 PM will naturally start falling asleep closer to 11:00PM. It also means waking up two hours later the next morning.
- Early school start times. More than 80% of U.S. middle, high, and combined public schools require students to attend class at times earlier than recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and American Medical Association.
- Educational obligations. There is a lot of pressure for students to succeed, and many adolescents feel overwhelmed by unrelenting school demands – including homework, sports, and extracurricular activities. They often put off sleep in order to keep up with these demands. As a result, it’s difficult to focus and learn in the classroom the next day. This becomes a vicious cycle in which the whole essence of learning is essentially lost.
- Social obligations. Today’s teens live in an “always on” world in which they are constantly connected to various electronic devices. Approximately 92% of U.S. teens have smartphone, and more than one-third of teens bring cellphones into their bedrooms and use them before sleep. This is problematic because digital devices stimulate the mind, and LED screens emit harsh blue light that suppresses melatonin production. This makes it harder for adolescents to fall and stay asleep at all, let alone at a reasonable hour. Research shows that even when teens finally put their phones down, 28% of them still leave their phones on while sleeping, only to be awakened at night by texts, calls or emails.
“With academic demands and extracurricular activities, the kids are going nonstop until they fall asleep exhausted at night. There is not an emphasis on the importance of sleep, as there is with nutrition and exercise. They say they are tired, but they don’t realize they are actually sleep-deprived. And if you ask kids to remove an activity, they would rather not. They would rather give up sleep than an activity.”
– Nanci Yuan, MD, director of the Stanford Children’s Health Sleep Center