Teen performance suffers from lack of sleep

Evidence suggests that teenagers are indeed seriously sleep deprived. A 2006 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half (51%) of adolescents complained of being too tired or sleepy during the day, and nearly two in ten (19%) said they fell asleep at school.

Research shows that later sleep and wake patterns among adolescents are biologically determined - the natural tendency for teenagers is to stay up late at night and wake up later in the morning. This is in stark contrast to many school bells across the country that ring as early as 7:00 a.m.

With that being said, the amount of sleep a teenager gets affects how he or she thinks, feels, looks and acts. Getting the right amount of sleep can improve mood, creativity, memory, relationships and performance in everything from school to sports and other after-school activities.

Sleep tips for your teen:

  1. Make sleep a priority. Even mild sleepiness can hurt performance - from taking school exams to playing sports or video games. Lack of sleep can make people look tired and feel depressed, irritable and angry.
  2. Keep consistency in mind. Establishing a regular bedtime and wake time schedule, and maintaining it during weekends and school (or work) vacations can be very beneficial. Teens should not stray from their schedules frequently, and never for two or more consecutive nights. Avoiding napping late in the day is also advised, as it might interfere with night time sleep.
  3. Getting the right amount of sleep is essential for peak performance. Most adolescents need between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep each night. Your teen should first determine what time he or she needs to get up in the morning, then calculate the right time to go to bed to achieve at least 8.5 hours of sleep a night.
  4. Bright lights in the morning are a good thing. Exposure to light helps to signal to the brain when it should wake up; avoid bright light in the evening to prepare for sleep.
  5. Understand the internal body clock. Doing so helps individuals maximise their schedules throughout the day. For example, to compensate for 'slump' (sleepy) times, your teen can participate in stimulating activities or classes that are interactive, and avoid lecture classes or potentially unsafe activities, including driving.
  6. Be mindful of stimulants. After lunch (or after noon), it is best to stay away from caffeinated drinks - coffee, colas and most energy drinks - as well as nicotine, because all of these are stimulants.
  7. Relax before going to bed. In the hour before bedtime, teens should engage in relaxing activities - such as reading for fun or taking a hot shower - instead of activities that keep their minds racing, like heavy studying or computer games. Additionally, people in general should avoid falling asleep with the television on - flickering light and stimulating content can inhibit restful sleep.
  8. Say no to all-nighters. Staying up late can cause chaos to sleep patterns and the ability to be alert the next day...and beyond. Teens should aim to get a good night's sleep before an exam; all-nighters or late-night study sessions might seem like a good way to cram, but they are also likely to drain brainpower.

Sleep Poll: Key findings

Many of the nation's adolescents are falling asleep in class, arriving late to school, feeling down, and driving drowsy because of a lack of sleep. What's more, parents are mostly in the dark about their adolescents' sleep. While most students know they're not getting the sleep they need, most parents believe that their adolescent is getting enough sleep during the school week.

The national survey on the sleep patterns of adolescents (ages 11-17), finds that only 20% of adolescents get the recommended nine hours of sleep on school nights, and nearly one-half (45%) sleep less than eight hours on school nights.

The poll indicates that the consequences of insufficient sleep affect nearly every aspect of teenage life. Among the most important findings:

  • At least once a week, 22% fall asleep doing homework, and 14% arrive late or miss school because they oversleep.
  • More than one-half (51%) of adolescent drivers have driven drowsy during the past year.
  • Among those adolescents who report being unhappy, tense and nervous, 73% feel they don't get enough sleep at night and 59% are excessively sleepy during the day.
  • More than one-quarter (28%) of adolescents say they're too tired to exercise.

Some startling observations of the National Sleep Foundation’s Sleep poll:

  • Do you have to wake your child for school? And, is it difficult to do so?
  • Has a teacher mentioned that your child is sleepy or tired during the day?
  • Do you find your child falling asleep while doing homework?
  • Is your child sleeping two hours later or more on weekends than on school nights?
  • Does he/she rely on a caffeinated drink in the morning to wake up? And/or drink two or more caffeinated drinks a day?
  • Does he/she routinely nap for more than 45 minutes?

Parents can play a key role in helping their adolescents develop and maintain healthy sleep habits. It is important for parents and adolescents to talk about sleep - including the natural phase delay - and learn more about good sleep habits in order to manage teens' busy schedules. There are ways to make it easier for an adolescent to get more sleep and a better night's sleep.

  • Set a consistent bedtime and wake-time (even on weekends) that allows for the recommended nine or more hours of sleep every night.
  • Have a relaxing bedtime routine, such as reading for fun or taking a warm bath or shower.
  • Keep the bedroom comfortable, dark, cool and quiet.
  • Get into bright light as soon as possible in the morning, but avoid it in the evening.
  • Create a sleep-friendly environment by removing TVs and other distractions from the bedroom and setting limits on usage before bedtime.
  • Avoid caffeine after lunchtime.

What parents need to know about teens and driving

Teens and other young drivers are at risk if they are sleepy at the wheel of a motor vehicle.

According to several studies, young drivers age 25 or under are involved in more than one-half of fall-asleep crashes. The most troubling consequences of sleepiness are injuries and deaths related to lapses in attention and delayed response times at critical moments, such as while driving.

Drowsiness or fatigue has been identified as a principal cause of many police-reported traffic crashes each year. One study found that being awake for 20 hours produces impairment on a driving simulator equal to a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.05%, which is legally drunk.

Warning signs that indicate when it is not a good time to get behind the wheel:

  • Sleep-deprived or fatigued (6 hours of sleep or less triples your risk)
  • Suffering from sleep loss, poor quality sleep or a sleep debt
  • Planning on driving long distances without proper rest breaks
  • Planning on driving through the night, mid-afternoon or normal sleep times
  • Taking sedating medications (e.g., antidepressants, cold tablets, antihistamines)
  • Working more than 60 hours a week (increases a driver's risk by 40 percent)
  • Working more than one job, and main job involves shift work
  • Drinking even small amounts of alcohol
  • Driving alone or on a long, rural, dark or boring road

Warning signs that should tell a driver to stop and rest:

  • Rolling down the window or turning up the radio to "fight" sleepiness
  • Difficulty focusing, frequent blinking or heavy eyelids
  • Daydreaming, wandering/disconnected thoughts
  • Trouble remembering the last few miles driven, missing exits or traffic signs
  • Yawning repeatedly or rubbing eyes
  • Trouble keeping head up
  • Drifting from lane-to-lane, tailgating or hitting a shoulder rumble strip
  • Feeling restless and irritable