Teens And Sleep: Less Hours, Better Grades, But At What Cost?
Sleep seems to be in the news a lot these days. And a recent study – click here to read the blog post at Parents News Now – suggests that teens may need less sleep than recommended, because kids with the better grades reported getting less sleep. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the case – but I would argue that the high academic achievers get less sleep, not need less sleep. And that could be a big problem.
The thing is, when we talk about younger kids and sleep deprivation, we note that they don’t do as well in school – they are, simply put, too tired to learn at an optimal rate. When we start to talk about teens, though, you see the “achievers” start to push themselves, and overload their afternoons and evenings with carefully selected extracurricular activities and studying (for advanced placement classes, no doubt). Educators use the phrase “resume building” – these kids are putting in overtime to build up their credentials for the college application process. So, it would be expected that they are getting less sleep and better grades. But … they may also be experiencing lots of stress. They may in fact be showing signs of sleep deprivation and pushing themselves through that. Some may be experiencing increasing levels of anxiety and stress. And some may – physically and psychologically – break down at some point.
So if the only goal is a high GPA, well then, less sleep may be better. But if the goal is to have a healthy, well-adjusted teen who is learning the important life lessons of striving for balance, making hard choices (like giving up an activity to make the daily grind less of a grind), the importance of taking care of one’s health – and just for the heck of it let’s throw in enjoying life – then I suggest we evaluate all these parameters, and not just grades, before we rewrite the sleep recommendations for teens. If you have a teen, the suggestion is that they get 8-9 hours of solid sleep nightly and have regular bedtimes and wake-up times. And whether they are getting this or not, look for signs of sleep deprivation. They’re not hard to spot. It shouldn’t be hard for them to wake-up on a school day. They shouldn’t be tired driving to school. They shouldn’t be tired during school. They shouldn’t need to look like they have to crash after school. And they shouldn’t look like they are exhausted at 11 pm because they still have studying to do. Should they push themselves a little? Sure. To the brink of exhaustion? No way. Not even if that gets them the best grades.