The Top Reasons Today’s Teens Lack Sleep & What to Do

When my teammate, Andrew McPeak, hosted several focus groups with middle school and high school students last year—we suspected we’d hear about certain habits in their lives, such as:

  • Several hours of screen time on their portable device
  • Feeling overwhelmed by school pressures and college entrance exams
  • Their relationships with their parents at home

What we didn’t expect to hear was comments on their sleep habits.

Wake Up Sleepy Head

Students made unsolicited remarks about how little sleep they got. Even after their parents said goodnight, assuming they were falling asleep, these teens stayed up watching YouTube videos, messaging friends, sending and posting pictures—you name it. They then commented on the unintended consequences of this habit: the temptation to fall asleep during school hours.

As I reviewed the data on students’ sleep habits, I noticed it has been common over the decades for adolescents to require more sleep than younger children, yet they get less sleep than those younger kids. Teens need between 8 and 9 hours of sleep, even more than adults do, yet because their brain is being pruned and hormones are raging, many do not get the sleep they need—especially today.

The Child Mind Institute posted, “In 2006 the National Sleep Foundation surveyed more than 1,600 adolescents and found that many exhibited depressive symptoms on a frequent—if not daily—basis. More than half (56%) said that they felt stressed out and anxious. Many reported feeling hopeless about the future. Less sleep correlated with higher levels of depression. And, in turn, those kids with more depression had problems falling or staying asleep. It’s a vicious cycle—lack of sleep affects mood, and depression can lead to lack of sleep. Multiple studies, including Dr. Ryan C. Meldrum’s, have found that severe sleep debt is linked to suicidal ideation.”

The Top Reasons Today’s Teens Lack Sleep and What to Do

1. They don’t get enough exercise.

People (even teens) get better sleep when they experience active aerobic exercise on a regular basis. Too many sit all day, in class or on a phone or playing a video game. Encourage them to make it fun and to create a habit of outside play, or competition.

2. They feel depressed.

One of the symptoms of depression is the desire to sleep, but often the inability to fall asleep. Tossing and turning or anxious feelings can be symptoms you may not expect. Ask them if they feel sad, or get bored quickly, or have lost ambition—then talk about it.

3. They consume too much sugar.

Doctors confirm that while our bodies need sugar for energy, too much refined sugar can cause weight gain or chronic disease—including the inability to sleep for hours. Encourage them to stop eating sugar for a week and see if they fall asleep easier.

4. They’ve got Celiac or Thyroid Disease.

Thyroid problems are relatively common. They occur when the thyroid gland fails to produce enough of the hormone, causing sleep deprivation as a symptom. Celiac disease is a gluten intake problem, and it can prevent sleep too. If you suspect either of these, consult with a physician.

5. They take in too much caffeine.

This one is predictable. If teens are enjoying a Starbucks one too many times a day or even a week, it can reduce their sleep. Kids don’t need caffeine. If they do have it, it should be before noon. Why not take a caffeine-free week challenge and see if it helps.

6. They’re spending too much time on screens before bed.

One easy symptom to spot is: what are their bedtime habits? Viewing a TV or phone or laptop just before they try to sleep is not helpful. The screen light prevents them from being ready to sleep. The easy fix is—screens off 30 minutes before bedtime.

Try These Quick Action Steps:

  • Make the bedroom a quiet place, with no screens, two earplugs and blinders.
  • Take a hot bath or shower before going to bed.
  • Cool the room down to 68 degrees for the body to cool off.
  • Turn alarm clocks away from the bed and close all curtains.
  • Keep your phone at least ten feet away from the bed.

Dr. Craig Canapari discusses the problems with screens and sleep in Prevent Sleep Problems in Kids: Keep Technology Out of the Bedroom.

Order Now: Marching Off the Map
Inspire Students to Navigate a Brand New World

Leading today’s students often feels like being in a new country with old maps that don’t work. Understanding and connecting with the generation in this land is often times frustrating and draining. We need new strategies on how to march off our old maps and create new ones.

From decades of research and hands-on experience, Dr. Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak collate their conclusions into one resource that helps adults:

  • Inspire students to own their education and their future
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  • Enable students to push back from the constant digital distractions and practice mindfulness
  • Raise kids who make healthy progress, both emotionally and mentally, through their teenage years
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  • Understand and practically apply the latest research on Generation Z

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The Top Reasons Today’s Teens Lack Sleep & What to Do