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Our Teens Aren’t Lazy: The Relationship Between Puberty and Sleep

Our Teens Aren’t Lazy: The Relationship Between Puberty and Sleep
18 January 2022 James Brooke

TEMPUR® sleep specialist & sleep counsellor, Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, shares his guide to the relationship between puberty and sleep.

Contrary to popular opinion, our teens aren’t inherently lazy – it is, in fact, a biological shift in their circadian rhythm that can cause sleep disturbances and issues during puberty. To dispel some of the myths and help parents support their tired teenagers, Thomas Høegh Reisenhus, sleep specialist & sleep counsellor for TEMPUR® shares his guide to puberty and sleep and provides tips on how to encourage your teenager to enjoy nine hours of quality sleep night after night.

Thomas says: “Before puberty, children naturally become sleepy at around 8 or 9pm, however, when puberty begins, the hormonal response to the 24-hour daily light/dark exposure that influences circadian rhythm is altered. Adolescents have a delayed release of regular daily melatonin which causes their circadian rhythm to shift by a couple of hours to 10 or 11pm. This natural shift is referred to as a ‘sleep phase delay’.

“The effects of this sleep phase delay include a tendency for later bedtimes and rise times, as well as less sleep overall, leading to increased levels of daytime sleepiness and irregular sleep patterns – i.e. less sleep on weekdays and sleeping longer at the weekend to try and compensate for any sleep loss during the week.

“So, whilst at first, it can seem as though teens may be suffering from insomnia at night-time or are just being lazy when they are unable to get up at a reasonable time come the morning, the shift in their circadian rhythm is a completely natural biological event that causes this sudden disruption to their usual sleep cycle.

“On average, teens need nine hours of sleep every night and it’s vital that they continue to get their nine hours if they are to successfully offset the inevitable ‘delayed sleep phase’.

“To help your teenager navigate puberty-induced sleep disruption, there are a number of simple hacks to ensure that, they can continue to enjoy plenty of quality sleep.”

Read on for Thomas’ guide to the relationship between puberty and sleep…

The role of the parent

As a parent, it’s important to help your child make wise choices, especially when it comes to anything that could impact their sleep.

Whilst it may seem fun to stay up late, educating your teen about the benefits of sleep – that it’s not something to fight off – should be a priority.

An increase in energy, feeling more alert and better able to concentrate and sharper decision-making skills are all benefits of a good night’s sleep. Quality sleep also boosts immunity, as well as improving general mental wellbeing.

Conversely, regular sleep deprivation causes feelings of fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, hyperactivity, aggression, impulsiveness and decreased energy and motivation. It can also have serious implications on longer term mental and physical health, leaving teens at greater risk of anxiety, inability to cope with daily stressors, low self-esteem, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Stress vs sleep

The demands placed on teenagers in terms of schoolwork, exams, part-time jobs and social pressures combined with the natural changes of puberty makes it even harder to enjoy an adequate amount of quality sleep.

Stress can adversely affect both sleep quality and duration causing people to feel more restless at night and unable to switch off, whilst insufficient sleep can increase stress levels.

The key thing to do is encourage your teenager to practise relaxation techniques before bed – it may be worth reiterating that scrolling social media, watching TV and creating TikTok videos don’t count as relaxation.

Relaxation techniques such as meditation, journaling and yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, are all fantastic ways to unwind and offload the day’s stressors.

Practising the art of good sleep

Contrary to what many believe, sleep isn’t something that just happens when we lie down in bed. A solid sleep routine is what’s needed to encourage a peaceful night’s slumber and will ensure that the odd late night doesn’t have a lasting impact.

Cover the basics by ensuring your teen’s bedroom is sufficiently dark, quiet and cool. The optimum bedroom temperature for sleep is around 18 degrees Celsius however this can vary by a few degrees from person to person.

Babies, teenagers and adults are all the same when it comes to the need for a wind-down routine. A warm shower or bath, a hot milky drink and a quiet, relaxation practise is ideal and when enjoyed every day, your teen will soon experience the benefits to both their ability to fall sleep as well as the quality of sleep.

Whilst your teenager is unlikely to be willing to leave their phone in another room overnight, instead encourage them to charge their phone overnight, on the other side of their bedroom. Just the fact that it will need to be plugged in away from their bed, will help to curb the temptation for late-night Insta scrolling.

And if they do have a poor night’s sleep…

If your teenager does have a poor night’s sleep, it’s important they don’t rely on short-term fixes like caffeine or energy drinks. Whilst they may boost energy reserves momentarily, in the long-term they can cause further disruption to sleep patterns.

Instead, simply encourage your teen to be diligent about returning to their usual sleep routine the following day.

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