Adolescence: Ages 15-18
PILLAR FOUR: SLEEP
The National Sleep Foundation and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine both recommend that teenagers ages 15 to 18 get eight to 10 hours of sleep per night; seven to 11 hours also may be appropriate, although this is less than ideal.
Studies show that 73 percent of high school students do not get enough sleep. African-American and Asian teenagers get the least amounts of sleep. Girls often sleep less than boys.
Research also has shown that children who sleep less than the recommended amounts are at a higher risk for obesity. According to one study, sleeping fewer than 7.5 hours each night increases the risk of obesity three-fold compared with sleeping nine or more hours.
It also matters what time adolescents go to sleep. Teens who go to bed earlier (closer to 9 p.m.) tend to have healthier weights than those who stay up later (closer to 11 p.m.), even if they sleep the same number of hours.
Poor sleep can affect teens in other ways, like poor school performance and a higher likelihood of drowsy driving, which can be as dangerous as drinking and driving. Lack of sleep also can impair their judgment and make them more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior.
There are many reasons for poor sleep among adolescents. Two of the most common are shifting circadian rhythm and overusing electronic devices.
A shifting circadian rhythm. Children’s circadian rhythm changes as they age and makes them naturally prefer a delayed sleep phase during their teenage years. This shift is why teenagers stay awake longer and wake up later. Their circadian rhythm can be affected by personal habits, such as caffeine consumption and irregular bedtimes, like staying up too late and sleeping in on weekends.
Screen time. Teenagers spend more time with electronic devices, like phones, laptops, and tablets, than any other age group. All that screen exposure can affect their sleep quality. The most common causes, according to much research, are mental and emotional stimulation from browsing social media and the Internet, and over-exposure to blue (short wavelength) light emissions from screens, which can further disrupt their natural circadian rhythm.
Both parents and teens should learn how to follow better healthy sleep hygiene. For example:
- Teens should watch their caffeine consumption during the day and don’t consume any caffeine drinks or foods at least two hours before bedtime.
- Teens should follow regular sleep schedules, especially during the school week, and avoid staying up too late.
- Parents should make efforts to curb their teen’s screen time at home, such as ban phones and tablets during meals, and cut off all screen time at least an hour before bedtime.
Check for Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
OSA also can affect sleep quality in teenagers. OSA is a disorder in which a sleeping person experiences either partial upper airway obstruction for prolonged periods or complete upper airway obstruction intermittently.
With OSA, teens frequently snore with periodic pauses or gasps in their breathing. Snoring can disrupt their sleep and cause problems with attention, concentration, and daytime sleepiness.
Overweight or obese children are at higher risk for OSA, but OSA symptoms often improve when children maintain a healthier weight.
Always screen children for snoring during wellness checks. Refer any child who snores three or more nights per week, and has any OSA symptoms, to a sleep medicine physician/sleep lab, or a pediatric ear, nose, and throat physician. A polysomnography—a test used to diagnose sleep disorders—can diagnose OSA.
Some children with OSA may need to use a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine at night. However, this is a second-line option for children who are not surgical candidates as it is often poorly tolerated.