Sleepy Teens


A student sits in class struggling to keep her eyes open, she leans his head down onto her desk, falls asleep, starts snoring, and the class laughs.  Scenarios like this occur in American high school classrooms every day.  While snoring may seem funny, adolescent sleep deprivation is a serious concern. 

Adolescence is a time of development which requires adequate sleep, among other supports.  Sleepy teens can face safety issues when they drive to school, academic under achievement, poor concentration, difficulties in social interactions, health issues, emotional struggles, and negative impacts on their overall development.

We, as a community, can support healthy sleep.  One strategy is delaying the start time of high schools, which often do not take into account the natural sleep patterns of adolescents and their sleep needs.  This change will impact teens, parents, teachers, coaches, and bus drivers and there will be a period of adjustment.  However, everyone will eventually get the benefits of rested and more fully functioning young people. 

If you know a teen, have a child who will one day be a teen, work with teens, or were ever a teen yourself tell your local school board that you support healthy sleep and healthy adolescent development.  Learn more about advocating for later school times here.  Teens, speak up for yourselves, like these California students. 

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8 Responses to “Sleepy Teens”

  1. majidshafiq Says:

    Sleep deprivation’s myriad adverse consequences certainly merit careful attention to this matter. In addition to duration of sleep, however, certain other factors also impact adequacy of sleep/rest and, consequently, whether or not an adolescent would be sleep deprived.

    Perhaps the most crucial element needed to prevent sleep deprivation among healthy adults (which most of the adolescents would presumably fall under) is that of sleep hygiene. Does the teen get to sleep at the “right” time (in order to obtain the recommended eight or so hours of sleep)? Does he/she sleep at about the same time everyday in order to establish and maintain a harmonious sleep-wake cycle? Is he/she able to sleep in an ambiance that is conducive to a restful sleep (no lights, no music, cool temperature)? These are all essential parts of a good sleep hygiene, the lack of which could make any healthy person sleep deprived. Steps to address these factors might potentially yield even greater benefit than resetting the class timings.

  2. manizhepayton Says:

    Sleep deprivation in teenagers is an important issue impacting future generations of Americans by reducing the effectiveness of the educational process either in school or at home. In today’s age, children have many distractions (i.e.sports, social media, cell phones) and parents must play a prominent role in setting boundaries, and reinforcing good time management skills. Parents need to communicate the importance of academics, while recognizing the need for extracurricular activities so children don’t become isolated. It’s a delicate balance that requires good role modeling, and active parental involvement.

  3. dianachau Says:

    It is interesting that you are suggesting that one of the strategies is having the school start at a later time. It does impact everyone if the time of school changes, but what is the difference? Delaying class for 1 hour that puts everyone back an hour as well does not really solve the issue. It would just mean that everyone would get home earlier and sleep later. I believe that a later start time for schools would not make an impact; thus we should look at why adolescents are lacking sleep. Why are they so tired and how to involve the parents in trying to make their child sleep at a more reasonable time during school days. Also, teens falling asleep in class may not be caused from lack of sleeping, some could just be bored with school and does not want to participate or usually from what I remembered, after lunchtime I get sleepy from eating.

  4. chenjo Says:

    Thank you for this interesting post….However, I agree with previous commenters that delaying the school start time likely won’t make a difference in these “sleepy teens”. The solution needs to be multifactorial and would include better sleep hygiene, parental involvement, as well as restructuring after-school extracurricular activities. A couple of days ago, the nurse in my office mentioned that her daughter in 7th grade was playing volleyball against a rival school in a city two hours away. Their game started at 6PM and they would be staying to watch the 8th graders play also. By the time she arrived home, it would be 10:30 PM. I was a bit surprised that her school allowed this on a school night. If she had homework to do after getting home, she would be up even later. Schools need to reassess their priorities and structure their curriculum and activities to create an environment conducive to learning. It appears that in this case, the priority was on the extracurricular activity instead. Perhaps having a school-wide curfew on extracurricular activities on school nights would decrease the number of “sleepy teens’.

  5. meghanrimelspach Says:

    Certainly sleep habits are important. What most people don’t realize is that the circadian rhythm of teens is different than that of children or adults. They naturally stay up later and would then require sleeping in later to get the proper amount of sleep. Changing the start time is a structural change that would give students a better chance of getting adequate rest. Telling them to improve their own sleep habits, but requiring them to wake up early is making them work against what their body is naturally inclined to do, which seems unnecessary when we can support them by creating a schedule that better fits their needs. High school should be about the students and their needs.

    This study found an association between early start times and sleep deprivation as well as daytime sleepiness

    This study found that adolescents performed better academically in the afternoons than the morning

  6. annepalumbo Says:

    Sleep deprivation is an important issue for all ages. There have been recent studies linking sleep deprivation and obesity. Even as an adult, I notice a marked difference in how I feel and perform during the day based on how early I am forced to get up in the morning, regardless of the amount of sleep I had during the night (not all professions allow for a regular schedule of bedtime/awakening). It makes sense to look at all factors that can be done within the school system to ensure that teens get proper sleep.

  7. tliccardi Says:

    I agree this is an important area of teen health and wellness. The links and studies are available associating sleep deprivation with issues from obesity to depression and mood disorder. These conditions that are on the rise in students.Unfortunately, the high school experience is a high -pressured time with days necessarily starting very early in the morning so that enough time is available for afternoon and evening sports which cover freshman, junior varsity and varsity sections, and club activities that leave student doing homework late at night. Until we as parents and educators change our perspective on what is considered a successful student, sleep is not an option.

  8. jessenjacob Says:

    I am in total agreement with you that our school systems start too early and is a major contributor to poor sleep. I remember having classes as early as 7:10 AM during high school. In order to make it to class on time that would mean I would have to get up at least by 6:00 AM. In other words, if I was to have an adequate night’s sleep it would require me to go to sleep by 10:00 PM which at times is not practical especially if you were involved with extracurricular activities with your daily school work. I agree with pushing back starting times. In addition, I think teenagers need to develop better sleeping patterns. More teenagers use caffeine daily which disrupts sleeping patterns as well. It also doesn’t help that teenagers are often watching television, browsing the internet, and playing video games late into the night. Unfortunately, I don’t know if these things can be necessarily controlled by parents or schools. I also agree with the above studies that obesity and depression likely play a crucial role in contributing to the poor sleeping habits among teenagers as well.

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