So how much sleep do adolescents really need and how can parents help them achieve it?
The first thing to understand is that teenagers are still growing and their brains are still developing—so they need more sleep than adults.
They also have different sleep-wake rhythms and release melatonin (a natural hormone to prepare for sleep) later, which means evening sleepiness takes longer to occur and they have a tendency to go to bed later and to sleep later in the morning. Of course, they still have to rise early for school.
Peers also influence teenagers more than they influence younger children. Increased social demands—in the form of online chat, social networking, and web browsing—combine with greater academic pressures as children enter high school. At this age parents also tend to exert less control over teenagers' bedtimes.
Eight to 10 hours, regularly
So what are optimal sleep times to support adolescent health? Experts reviewed 864 papers examining relationships between children's sleep duration and health. They suggested that those between 13 and 18 years of age should sleep eight to 10 hours per 24 hours on a regular basis to promote optimal health.
A recent report indicated that only five percent of adolescents in the United States meet recommendations for sleep, physical activity, and screen time. Older adolescents were less likely than younger adolescents (14 years or less) to achieve the recommendations.
Sex hormones and the stress response
A lot of action takes place in teenage brains due to their developmental stage. During adolescence, there are major changes to thinking, emotions, behavior, and interpersonal relationships.
Teenagers react a lot to stress and their stress-response systems are maturing. Sex hormones affect the neurotransmitters in their brains and increase their reactivity to stress. When we add inadequate sleep time to the picture there can be many implications.
A recent review identified increased risk for suicide, being overweight, high rates of injury, poor sustained attention, and low school grades for teens sleeping less than eight hours.