For families with teenagers, school nights may fall into a familiar pattern. Parents urge their kids to go to bed early. But teens would rather stay up late. Maybe they have homework or want to spend time with friends. Or maybe it’s just hard to fall asleep. But a new study confirms that adolescents need eight to 10 hours of sleep at night to feel their best the next day.
As kids reach adolescence, they often face increasing workloads and responsibilities. But they are not yet adults. Their bodies and brains are still changing. As a result, “Their sleep needs are like that of a developing child,” says Rafael Pelayo. He is a sleep doctor at the Stanford Center for Sleep Sciences and Medicine in California. He was not involved in the new study.
“Adolescence is sometimes referred to as the ‘perfect storm’ of problems of sleep,” says Pelayo. On the one hand, teens need regular sleep to be mentally and physically healthy. But their internal clocks shift during this period. Their bodies want to stay awake later at night and sleep later in the morning. School still starts early, though. As a result, Pelayo estimates that 80 to 90 percent of teens do not get enough sleep.
That missed sleep has consequences. Sleep-deprived kids are more prone to mental and physical illnesses. Sleepy drivers face a heightened risk of car accidents — the top cause of teenage death. But too much sleep can have its own problems, such as leaving teens with a sour mood upon waking.
Sleep affects mood
Andrew Fuligni studies the mental health of adolescents at the University of California, Los Angeles. He wanted to understand which sleep habits help teens feel and perform their best. To find out, his team surveyed 419 students. Each was between the ages of 13 and 19. Every day for two weeks, these volunteers recorded when they fell asleep and woke up. They also rated their moods and feelings the next day, such as their happiness, anxiety and pain.
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Most students reported good moods after a night of eight to 10 hours of sleep. “Too much sleep and too little sleep are both extremes,” says Pelayo. And both were linked with problems.
Within that eight-to-10-hour range, older kids seemed to need the least sleep. “A 17- or 18-year-old does not need as much sleep as a 14-year-old in order to function on a daily…
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