Why Are Teenagers So Sleepy?
As a teen myself, I ran around like I was missing part of my brain. I skipped school, drove fast, and did some pretty stupid things that were RISKY. If this description triggers memories of your own, you are in good company. As a parent, I held my breath a lot through those teen years. Thankfully, they didn’t dish out what I had coming.
If you have a young person in your home, you are aware of the struggles that can arise at bedtime. Transitioning to a calm, stimulus-free state in order to fall asleep is only part of the battle. Sleeping through the night without interruption is another.
This is a big deal because the adolescent stage earns its reputation. Since our brains develop into the mid-twenties, we are simply missing that last tip of our frontal lobe responsible for planning and decision-making until well after our bodies look ready for adulthood.
That fact along with a heavy sleep requirement presents a struggle for everyone. As a child grows, their brain requires different doses of deep-sleep intensity. As we move forward in development a key ingredient for problem-solving, reasoning skills, and memory is the opportunity for each rotation of deep sleep followed by dream activity. Even one missing rotation of these cycles is enough to rob the developing brain of what it needs for normal functioning.
When I talk to or simply listen to high schoolers during my day, I learn well…let’s say a lot. One of the most prevalent topics they mention is their lack of sleep or in other words, what they were doing all night. It’s not uncommon to hear that they’ve spent their night playing video games, on their cell phones, or any number of distractions. Research shows an alarming number of teens are engaged with cell phones throughout the night.
When you pair two events like risk taking with distracting stimuli at your disposal, you are likely to see even the most compliant book nerd throw caution to the wind occasionally. This combination equals an undernourished brain that struggles to keep up with the demands of a full day. Healing brainwave activity they desperately need every night is equivalent to a bath that replenishes their neurological control center and provides the energy and capacity for learning the next day.
Some of the best recommendations I’ve received from state leaders in education push for a family policy of phones off all night and docked in the exclusive possession of parents. Kids do what works for them. They are not necessarily disobedient by nature or trying to be difficult. The powerful draw of games, conversations, and loops of YouTube videos are impossible for most adults to resist, much less the risk prone, still developing child or adolescent.
We can’t keep our kids from all mistakes or hold to rigid standards in every aspect of life. But we probably can educate them to respect their body’s needs for rest while structuring their environment in a way that protects them the best we can. I like to remind fellow parents to loan your teenager your frontal lobe while they are still developing theirs. In other words, guide and protect to minimize the risks while passing through that marvelous stage of reaching for adulthood.
May you and your family sleep peacefully.
If you are an educator or have an experience with sleepy teens, please share your experience.