Why teenagers need sleep!

Why teenagers need sleep!

Do you have a teenage child? Are you mentoring a teenager?

How many hours sleep does that young person have EVERY night?

Rule of thumb is that adolescents require 9 hours sleep every night during these critical years of growth and while the brain is developing.I remain continually puzzled that so many teenagers and their parents seem reluctant to ensure that these young people have a minimum of 9 hours sleep every night. More and more research points to the necessity of this, as puberty is kicking in and the brain is at an important stage of its developmental journey.

The brain needs sleep to dispose of unimportant information, lay down new learning and to process new information. It needs sleep to regulate emotions.

Basically, the brain needs sleep to grow, change and re-energise so it can function properly during the following day. Indeed, scientists have learnt that what our brain learns during the day is CONSOLIDATED during sleep.

Author and brain researcher, Nicola Morgan, says there is more and more evidence now suggesting that our sleeping brains practise the things we do while we are awake. She describes how REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement sleep), during which time our eyelids are flattering, happens at certain stages during the sleep cycle, particularly when we are experiencing deep sleep and dreaming. Research is now suggesting that REM sleep is particularly important for memory and learning.

During adolescence changes to the brain do affect the biological clock, a cluster of neurons that sends signals throughout the body and control fundamentally all of the internal operations, one of which is sleep.  MELATONIN, the chemical that is released to induce sleep, is now distributed in the brain about an hour later, so the teenager, who is also striving to be more independent, trying to control his or her life, possibly working late anyway because of questionable management of time issues, has a problem.  Again, when we discuss all this with them and work out a new management of time plan, all will be well.  And, by the way, there will be times when teenagers do work late and get up early for school and, come the weekend, they might want to sleep for a long time.  This is normal – let them do so.

Let me share a little of Tracey’s (not her real name) story. Tracey was in her final year of school and was one of the top students academically. She approached me as she felt she needed some assistance to lead a more balanced and healthy lifestyle.

The previous year Tracey had obtained superb academic results but was starting to feel the pressure to achieve these results again. She told me that, even though she had done really well, these results had come at a great personal cost. The stress had negatively impacted her health.

“How many hours sleep a night were you having?” I interjected.

“Probably about five during the pressure times.”

“Well, therein could lie one problem, “ I suggested, “so let’s focus on the organisation of your time and how you plan, with at least nine hours sleep every night becoming a habit.”

I encouraged Tracey to explore different options and eventually she would find the strategies that would ensure she became the Best she could Be.

Within a couple of weeks she had not only moved to a place of having nine hours sleep a night, but she had also started an exercise program and was reporting that she felt a lot less stressful and was feeling happier as a person.

Not only is a consistent sleep pattern desired, but proper nutrition will also enhance the developing brains. Psychologist, Andrew Fuller, has done a lot of work in this area over many years and his work supports other research which suggests that, where we pay attention to nutrition and cognition, memory, attention, stress and intelligence, there is a greater possibility of positive student achievement. 

The Spirit of Mentoring involves discussions between volunteer adult mentors and their adolescent mentees about effective sleep patterns, effective management of time and working out strategies to live healthy and balanced lives.

Have you a story to share about your experiences working in this area with a young person?

About the author: Robin Cox has been a School Principal, sports coach to National Under 19 Level, Youth Symposium Organizer, developer of Youth Mentoring Programs in New Zealand and Australia, Churchill Fellow and author of books linked to youth mentoring, Peer Mentoring and the development of adolescents to become the best they can be. He has trained over 1,000 volunteer adult mentors, run workshops for teachers promoting the Spirit of Mentoring and personally mentored over 1,000 adolescents. Still an idealist, a cancer survivor of 50+ years, married with two adult children, Robin lives in Australia and shares a passion with anyone wanting to make a positive difference in the global community. You can see his short daily mentoring tips on Twitter @million2016coxy or on Facebook (where you are able to join a closed mentoring group) or contact him through his Mentoring Matters website