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One Hour of Sleep is Stealing Your Teen’s A-grade

October 13, 2017

Teens need a solid 9 hours to operate at peak efficiency

If you have a teenager in the house, you probably know the symptoms. You wonder how that sweet, laughing child could have turned into this thing... It sleeps all day and refuses to leave its cave. Careful attempts to prod it awake are met with half-articulate growls and, sometimes, thrown objects. When it finally does emerge (around noon and probably in its underwear) it shuffles about the house in a state of gloom, making monosyllabic conversation and eating like a bear going into hibernation. You wonder whether it’s on drugs; whether it’s joined a cult; or, perhaps, has been bitten by a vampire. But the real reason is even scarier: hormones.

When your teen reaches adolescence, hormonal changes start to mess with their biologically built-in sleep-timers (or ‘circadian rhythm’). Ever notice how old people seem to get by on only a couple of hours sleep per night? This is the same principle but in reverse. Suddenly, come eleven o’clock, your teen just isn’t tired. If we were still living in caves, they would naturally go to sleep sometime past two in the morning and only wake at noon the next day. (A phenomenon modern scientists refer to as ‘the weekend’). Unfortunately modern civilization also invented alarm clocks and school. As a result, your teen is going to bed later (which is only natural) but is still getting up early to go to school (which - they probably argue - is very unnatural). Luckily they can compensate for this imbalance by sleeping through their classes.

While you might feel inclined to nail their bedroom doors shut and just slide some pizza under it until things get better, this does not really address your child’s developmental needs. It’s very simple: tired teens don’t perform well in school, sports or any other activity you’d care to name. Fatigue decreases alertness, concentration, mental agility, physical reaction time and severely detracts from reasoned decision making skills (i.e. everything you need to get ahead in school, or life). A solid nine hours of sleep is necessary for your teen to operate at peak mental efficiency.

And that’s just their development. We haven’t considered their safety yet: some teens drive themselves to- and from school. Often on motorcycles or scooters, which is legal from age sixteen onward. Teen Driver Source tells us that being awake for 18 hours is the equivalent of having a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.08. In case you haven’t checked recently, 0.05 lands you in a cell in South Africa. (If you’re lucky, otherwise it lands you in the morgue). Statistics show that teen drivers operating on less than eight hours of sleep are a third more likely to be involved in an accident. Food for thought.

How is a responsible parent supposed to help their teen survive (and, almost as important, survive their teen)? Well, it doesn’t hurt if the teens' beds are comfortable and inviting country they can’t wait to visit. If your teen has reached adolescence, probably a growth spurt has been involved and it’s an opportune time to consider updating the mattress and pillow, to accommodate their new physique. For the most part, though, it’s down to maintaining a healthy household bedtime routine. (And a supply of thin-crust pizza, just in case.)

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