Teen Sleep: An Endangered Generation

The early bird gets the worm…but not if you are a teen. Our research—and numerous other studies from around the country—has found that the “early teenager” is often overworked, overstressed, tired and depressed. Teen sleep problems post a danger to the development of a whole generation.

Startling Facts about Teen Sleep Deprivation

There are some startling facts about teens with fewer than 6 hours of sleep per night:

  • They drive with reaction times equivalent to having a blood alcohol content of .05. (For those under 21, this is grounds for a DUI arrest.)
  • They are 2-3 times more likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts
  • They experience a harder time relating to their peers
  • Are significantly more likely to use drugs, alcohol and engage in other at-risk behaviors
  • Have more trouble in school and getting accepted to college
  • Are more likely to be obese

Teens Are Not Mini-Adults

They have unique needs. Our teens really, really need the support of the educational community, parents and society as a whole to understand what’s going on in the teen brain and how big of a role sleep plays. And that’s the intention of the upcoming Teens & Sleep Conference. On October 3 and 4 in Minneapolis, experts from around the country are presenting their research exploring the teen sleep and how a lack of adequate sleep affects learning, emotions and risky behavior. This groundbreaking national conference is the first-ever event to bring all the research in the area of teens and sleep together in one place.

Teen Sleep Patterns are Biological

Brain development during the teen years is different than any other human developmental period. There are biological reasons teens stay up late and then sleep in, as I explained in a recent KARE 11 interview. It’s been found that teenagers have a different sleep pattern than young children do, called the Sleep Phase Shift, where they cannot biologically fall asleep until about 10:45 at night and their brains want to stay asleep (with melatonin secretion) until about 8:00 a.m. So anytime teens are awakened before 8:00 in the morning, their brains are actually still seeking to be in sleep mode. It’s not a matter of laziness or will—it’s a matter of biology. This is why 9 hours of sleep is absolutely key to a teen’s mental and physical health.

Through the Teens & Sleep Conference, we’re trying to bring awareness to this issue and influence change—from later school start times to understanding how teen sleep affects learning, moods, obesity, and beyond. We need the educational community to adapt to teens and not the other way around. If you care about teens, this conference cannot be missed. Register here before September 29. Local media are very welcome!

For information about lodging, accommodations, agenda and more, visit the Teens & Sleep Conference webpage.

Kyla Wahlstrom

About the Author

Kyla Wahlstrom, Ph.D.

  • Director
  • Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement
  • College of Education and Human Development
  • University of Minnesota

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One thought on “Teen Sleep: An Endangered Generation”

  1. Pat Henning says:

    My son’s high school psychology teacher has students track their sleep for a week. Those that log 9 hours or more a night received extra credit. This “fun” assignment was incredibly effective because students experience first-hand the benefits of being well rested (as opposed to being told). Made a big difference!

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