To meet all of these demands, surveys show, high schoolers usually stay up close to midnight on school nights. And then they have to get up early the next morning, typically around 6 or 6:30 a.m., to get to school on time, as most high schools start classes around 7:30 a.m.
“Most studies show a fairly consistent 9 1/4 hours sleep requirement,” says Emsellem. “So there’s a huge gap between what they’re getting on an average school night and what they require.”
An adolescent’s biology bears some of the blame for this sleep problem. As teens progress through puberty, unprecedented growth occurs in body and brain that requires a lot of sleep.
In youth ministry we joke about all-nighters. I’m quick to point out that when hosting an all-nighter that I take tactical advantage over my students. First, I play with chemical warfare by loading my students full of sugar and caffeine early in the night while I load up on water and fruit, followed by a lot of physical activity. Second, as an adult I actually need less sleep. Third, I sleep well regularly so I’m not tired going into an all-nighter.
Yet sleep deprivation is a serious ailment for our students. Missing out on 33% of sleep each night (on average) has loads of consequences.
Here’s a quick list of problems with chronic sleep deprivation that I’ve seen:
- Struggling in school academically. Some schools are compensating by starting high school later. A nice step, but doesn’t solve the problem if they just stay up later.
- Compensating for tiredness with caffeine & sugar might help them stay alert but leads to weight gain, doesn’t help acne, excessive odor, etc.
- Inexperienced drivers + sleep deprivation = recipe for disaster.
- Overly dramatic/depressive mood swings. Teenage girls have a unique ability to make a mountain out of a molehill. Staying up late thinking about it isn’t helping.
- Laptops in their bedroom and unlimited, unsupervised, broadband internet doesn’t help them make wise decisions.
With all that a teenager is doing in the areas of social, physical, sexual, and cognitive development the brain is working overdrive. Not giving their brains the time to rest, recover, and work while they are sleeping is just going to lead to being developmentally delayed.
Parents: What can you do to make sure your kids get the sleep they need?
Schools: Short of nap time or delaying the start of school, how can you help in this area?
Youth workers: How can your ministry be “good news” to sleep deprived teenagers in your community?
All: What do you think this has to do with the elongation of adolescence?