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NO TIME TO SLEEP……Teenage Sleep Dilemma

Early to bed, early to rise… Haven’t we all heard these wise words. No one appreciates a good night’s sleep more than a baby or a sleep deprived adult. However, the seemingly invincible teen defies all laws of circadian rhythm.

In this blog we have discussed the causes of lack of sleep among teenagers along with the implications of sleep deprivation and how to combat it with the use of light-therapy wearables.

What causes lack of sleep in teenagers
● Bodily changes
● Hectic academic schedule
● Busy social life
● Perspective towards sleep

Bodily changes

Puberty is a time when the body goes through several changes. One big change is the shift in sleep cycle. The sleep requirement lessens and the body clock which determines what time they fall asleep and what time they should wake up gets delayed as teenagers develop through their adolescent years. This means they fall asleep later and wake-up later.

Hectic academic schedule

Late night studies for assessments and submissions, academic pressure and extracurricular activities ─ all contribute towards upsetting one’s sleep cycle. It’s a known fact that school burnout and sleep quality correlate with one another.

Busy social life

There are several reasons that pressurise teens into not following a healthy sleep pattern. Apart from the plentiful online distractions, it’s enticing to stay up late and catch up on texting or chatting with friends, watching that one extra interesting YouTube video. All this affects their waking up time making them feel groggy and forever sleep deprived.

Perspective towards sleep

Teenagers often embrace the ‘night owl’ tag with pride. Since their schedule is such that morning time is taken up by school, they have no time for themselves other than late evenings to relax and unwind ─The need to last minute catch up on social media, FOMO attitude towards social life, intense academic and peer pressure puts them in a cycle of late nights and constant sleep deficit. Their bodily changes combined with this makes them believe they can handle late nights and early morning schedules without any impact on their performance.

Impacts of sleep deprivation and how to combat it

Just like the causes of lack of sleep is not restricted to above points, so is the impact of sleep deprivation. Whilst the list can be non-exhaustive, some of the immediate effects of lack of sleep can be on their academic achievements, emotional health, physical health and overall development. The first and foremost way of combating sleep deprivation is by identifying it.

Parents can play a huge role by looking out for the tell-tale signs of sleep deprivation. One way is to ask themselves ─ does their teen sleeps-in on weekends, and for how long? If the difference in waking-up timing between weekdays and weekends is of more than 2 hours, it’s time to do some research and seek help

Can bright light therapy help teens?

According to Dr Michael Gradisar, Head of Sleep Science at Flinders University has suggested that:

Bright light therapy has been used in multiple research studies around the world for people who fall asleep late and wake up late. His research group was the first to perform a controlled study showing that bright light therapy was effective in adolescents with sleep problems, and the benefits lasted for 6 months after treatment stopped. Several studies performed in other countries also show bright light therapy works. It works by signalling to the body clock (via the eyes) that it’s time to wake up and start the day.

So, by gradually providing light earlier and earlier to teenagers, their body clock was re-timed into starting the day earlier. As a result, teens begin to feel more alert in the morning and because they are waking up earlier, they begin to fall asleep earlier. It does take effort, but the data showed improvements can occur over 3 weeks, which is quite impressive!

Dr Gradisar’s research interests include the prevalence, consequences, and the psychological assessment and treatment of sleep disorders in children and adolescents.

He also runs treatment studies for child and adolescent sleep problems through the Child and Adolescent Sleep Clinic in Adelaide, Australia

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