Home Mental Health & Well-Being Sleep Expert Reveals the Real Reasons Behind Your Teen’s Unusual Sleep Cycle

Sleep Expert Reveals the Real Reasons Behind Your Teen’s Unusual Sleep Cycle

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Google data shows a 51% increase in searches for “teenager sleep” in the last three months as parents nationwide look to the search engine for information on their adolescents’ sleep schedule.

According to a recent study from the medical journal, analysing 11,872 UK adolescents (aged 13-15), very high social media users were roughly 70% more likely to fall asleep after 11 pm on school days and after midnight on free days than average social media users. High social media users were also more likely to say they had trouble getting back to sleep after waking during the night.

But is social media and screen usage entirely to blame for teenagers sleeping too little or too late?

A recent survey undertaken by Bensons for Beds revealed just under a third (32%) of parents says their teenagers complain of a “lack of comfort” (i.e. bed or mattress being uncomfortable) affecting their sleep pattern. A quarter (25%) of parents also say that their teenagers complain that the overall room temperature – either too cold or too warm – keeps them awake at night. 

Moreover, the survey revealed that one in 5 (20%) parents say their teenagers do not have a set bedtime. A third (33%) say their teenagers have a set bedtime, but ‘they rarely stick to it’ – all of which could impact teen sleep.

However, Bensons for Beds resident sleep expert Dr Sophie Bostock suggests science may cause teenagers’ unusual sleeping patterns: “In the evening, the sleep hormone, melatonin, signals the brain and body to prepare for sleep. Adults usually start to produce melatonin before 9 pm, around 90 minutes before the onset of sleep, whereas the average teen’s melatonin production starts several hours later. Expecting a teenager to go to bed at 10 pm is a bit like asking an adult to be in bed at 8 pm; most of us are just not that sleepy.”

“Besides our body clocks, a second drive to sleep comes from the build-up of a drowsy-inducing chemical called adenosine. The more hours we’ve been awake, the greater the sleepiness from adenosine; this is called ‘sleep pressure’. Sleep pressure accumulates in teens more slowly than adults, which is another reason they feel sleepy later than their parents.”

“Delays to the body clock typically appear around puberty, when there are surges in sex hormones. For girls, puberty can also accompany difficulties falling asleep and waking up at night. Fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone can have an unsettling impact on sleep. Girls who experience pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) often report insomnia symptoms, disturbed dreams or excessive sleepiness during the day.”

How to help teens sleep well?

While science is a force to be reckoned with, Dr Bostock shares some top tips parents can follow to support their teenagers’ sleep wellness and minimise the disruption:

  • Stick to the same wake-up and wind-down schedule as often as possible, even on weekends.
  • Aim for a minimum of 8.5 hours in bed every night. Younger teens are likely to need more than this.
  • Spend at least 15 minutes outside in daylight, or with a bright SAD lamp, in the first hour after waking. This helps the body clock know it’s time to start the clock on the day.
  • Get active daily – this might mean walking or doing some gentle stretching.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon and evening.
  • Dim bright lights and limit exposure to screens (or use night mode) in the last 90 minutes before bed. Leave screens outside the bedroom.
  • Try eating something within the first two hours of waking up, and avoid eating large meals or very sugary snacks in the last two hours before bed. In general, a healthy, unprocessed diet will support good sleep.
  • Design a consistent bedtime routine for 30–60 minutes before bed. Relaxing rituals can help to prepare the body for deep sleep. For example, journaling, reading a book, crafts, listening to music, meditating or having a warm bath.
  • Support teens to plan to avoid working late at night.
  • Create a haven for sleep. Keep the bedroom tidy, comfortable, cool, dark and quiet.
  • Support the whole family to sleep well; keep phones outside the bedroom. Agree on a set time to switch off technology. 

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