A quick scroll through Art of Smart’s wellbeing articles and you’re no doubt feeling tranquil and at ease. It’s a space where stress is normalised and so is getting help. And you know what would make that space even better? An article about how many hours of sleep a teenager should get! You were thinking that too, right?
Sleep is important and so are the hours you dedicate to getting enough of it. If you’re wanting to enhance your nightly Zs or are just in the mood to dive into the world of naps, sleep and everything in between, then keep reading!
Let’s get started!
What’s so great about a good sleep?
Sleep is great. I love it. In fact, sleep is my favourite part of the day after being awake. So, it’s definitely up there.
Sleep gives your body a chance to rejuvenate. By getting a good night’s sleep, you’re giving your brain a break, your muscles a chance to recharge and your immune system some time to get stronger.
Funnily enough, trying to get to sleep is actually not the best time for you to reflect on all the awkward interactions you had that day nor is it time to start developing every creative idea you’ve ever thought of. Though it’s easy to forget.
Fun Fact: Before the 1950s, everyone just generally accepted that when you slept, your body literally just switched off. It was thought of as a passive activity. Now, it’s known that sleep actually gives your body a chance to tick off the tasks on its to-do list that it couldn’t get to while you were walking around and doing all the things that awake bodies do.
While you sleep, your body sorts out information from the day, releases a bunch of important hormones, chills out your nervous system and paralyses your muscles for a bit… Wait what?
Stages of Sleep
Once you tuck yourself into your nice warm bed, close your eyes and start drifting off into the land of sleep, your body will automatically rotate between various sleeping stages. This includes a phase of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM).
NREM or non-REM sleep comprises 4 stages: the first is when you’re in between being awake and asleep, the second is light sleep when your body regulates its breathing and reduces its temperature, and the third and fourth stages involve deep sleep.
As the name suggests, once you cycle into REM sleep, your eyes move rapidly around in their sockets, and, luckily, do so when your eyelids are closed.
Your REM sleep is when your breathing increases and your muscles become temporarily paralysed. Apparently there are a couple of clever clogs out there who suggest that this is so you don’t physically act out your dreams.
This cycle will typically repeat itself four or five times at night.
Another Fun Fact: The time that you’re sleeping accounts for a quarter to a third of your life! What?!
What is a good sleep and why do you need it?
The best sleep is when you can rotate through your NREM and REM cycles without interruption (or at least minimal interruption).
Your most compatible sleep cycle is the one that matches your circadian rhythm, which is a big word that refers to your internal body clock. This internal clock operates throughout the 24 hours of your day and regulates your sleep cycle to alert your body when you feel tired or awake.
Light is actually a big indicator for your circadian rhythms. When there’s no more natural light, your body releases the hormone, melatonin, which induces sleepiness. On the other side of that coin, when there’s plenty of natural light, your body releases a hormone called cortisol which encourages your body to remain awake and alert.
As we’ll mention a number of times throughout this article, the amount and quality of sleep you get each night has a direct impact on your brain function.
Put simply, your brain needs sleep to adapt to input and process information. This includes learning in the classroom, studying at home and even how you interact with your friends and what foods you’re reaching for. Without the right amount of sleep, your brain functions less efficiently and can worsen symptoms of anxiety, depression and migraines.
If you’re concerned about your stress or anxiety and are not sure whether it’s time to seek professional help, you can have a look at an article all about it right here.
How many hours of sleep should a teenager get?
Getting enough sleep as a teen is particularly important. Your teenage years account for the formative period of your life, so it’s a time for physical, social and emotional growth.
Getting the right amount of sleep and feeling refreshed and rejuvenated will help your days go as smoothly as possible. Now, let’s break it down.
Children and pre-teens between the ages 6-13 are recommended to be sleeping 9 to 11 hours each day. So, this will look like getting to sleep at 9pm and sleeping all the way until 6am to 8am.
Children are generally a little better at getting to sleep than teenagers, and it’s just as important. A good sleep for a pre-teen will equal a settled, happy and keen kid for the next day.
As you reach adolescence, it’s arguably more important to get the right amount of sleep and even more difficult to get enough. There’s research to suggest that teenagers in the ages of 14 to 17 should be aiming to get 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night. Still, most teenagers are only sleeping for 6 and a half to 7 and a half hours a night.
Remember the circadian rhythms mentioned earlier? Well, they’re back.
As someone begins to go through puberty, hormones will usually shift their circadian rhythms to push the body clock back a couple hours. This means that it’s normal for teenagers to feel tired later on in the evening and therefore want to sleep until later.
The downside of this is that the world doesn’t change when your body clock does. So, despite plenty of research to suggest that teenagers would function better if their days started later, the school bell will continue to ring at 8am each morning (or thereabouts).
So, unfortunately, you’ll have to learn to adapt and overcome. We’ll go into specific strategies a little later on.
As a late teen or young adult (whatever you want to go by), you’re recommended to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. So, that’s a little easier to fit in with a hectic study schedule, extracurricular activities and a social life, but it still can be difficult.
Especially as an HSC or uni student, you’ve got a lot on your plate as it is. But remember that the amount of sleep you get has a direct impact on your concentration, mental health and physical health.
So, if it’s possible, try to put your phone down a little earlier, close the books and jump into bed as soon as you can.
What are the signs you’re not getting enough sleep?
Lucky for you, we’ve got another whole article that covers this question. Especially when you’re going through a highly stressful or emotional time, like the HSC, it can be easy to misinterpret feelings of sleep deprivation for a range of other issues.
Of course, that’s not to say more sleep is always the answer, but it could be something to consider!
We’ll sum up the article here but if it’s something you’d like to know more about, make sure you take a squiz right here.
#1: If you’re emotions feel like they’re all over the place
Sleep has a huge influence on the kinds of moods that you’re in throughout the day. You might be feeling particularly down or under the weather or maybe your mood is so low that you’re having trouble getting through your day.
You may also find minimal sleep affecting your emotional intelligence too. Without the right amount of sleep, you’re going to feel physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted.
There’s even evidence to suggest that different areas of the brain act differently when we don’t get the right amount of sleep. No wonder it messes with your head!
#2: If you’re getting colds more often than usual
While we’d hope that on average the amounts of colds and flus going around have dramatically reduced since social distancing and isolation became the norm, you still might be finding yourself catching some colds here or there. This is because sleep has a direct impact on the strength of your immune system.
So, your body is going to have a harder time trying to fight off the infections that it’d usually have no trouble getting rid of. Without scaring you too much, there’s research to suggest that long-term sleep deprivation can increase your risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease or diabetes.
This is because your body produces cells while you sleep and directs them into your lymphoid organs — the ones that are usually the first to be exposed to viral cells. So, without enough sleep your body gets less chances to produce these cells that help fight off colds.
#3: If you find yourself wanting more sugary and starchy foods
While we all enjoy sweet and salty snacks, sometimes you might find yourself wanting them a little more than usual. The amount of sleep you get can directly impact how hungry you are and the kinds of foods you’re searching for in the cupboard.
This is because sleep regulates the various hormones responsible for feeling hungry and the kinds of cravings we get. Without enough rest, these hormone levels become deregulated and our bodies are going to be searching for sugary and starchy foods to help it out.
Some Tips for a Better Night’s Sleep
#1: Establish a consistent evening routine
To get your body ready and expectant of a good night’s sleep, you should be looking to develop a schedule and nighttime routine that you can keep consistent for the long haul.
This could include things like dedicating time to read before bed, switching your phone off an hour before you try to sleep, eating dinner at a consistent time, practising meditation or mindfulness, journaling, or tidying your room — the options are endless. Give each a try to figure out which one best suits you.
#2: Try to limit your caffeine intake
This one’s pretty obvious since caffeine is literally consumed to keep us awake. Even so, it’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation.
You need caffeine because you’re tired but, with caffeine, you can’t get to sleep at night to stop you from being tired. It’s an endless cycle!
It might be a good idea to take it one day at a time. Try and limit the caffeine you’re consuming bit by bit to see if it impacts your quality of sleep.
Eventually, the great sleep you’ll be getting will make up for the caffeine that you’re not getting. Either way, everything is fine in moderation, so don’t feel like you absolutely need to cut out coffee if it’s something you enjoy.
#3: Seek professional help
When all else fails, it might be time to chat to your GP about your other options. Actually, scratch that, you don’t have to try every trick in the book before it’s time to seek some professional help. Chatting to your doctor or booking an appointment with a psychologist or sleep therapist doesn’t have to be your last resort.
I am a notoriously bad sleeper. A couple years ago, I went to my local doctor who gave me a couple options and told me that a psychologist may be my best choice. Funnily enough, going to a psychologist helped uncover some other anxiety issues that I had overlooked.
And that’s it!
So, to all my bad sleeping buddies out there, I see you and as long as you keep trying new things (and that includes chatting with professionals), you’ll likely find something that helps!
Good luck and good night. Zzzzz.
If you’re looking for other wellbeing resources, check out some our articles below:
- How to Study for the HSC When You Have Insomnia
- 5 Signs You’re Depressed and What You Can Do About Your Mental Health
- 3 Biggest Causes of Stress for Students During the HSC
Gemma Billington is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Technology Sydney. While studying Journalism and Social and Political Sciences, Gemma enjoys spending her time at the gym or reading about Britain’s medieval monarchy – ideally not at the same time. She currently creates and administers social media posts for Central News and writes for the student publication, The Comma. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to study a Masters of Medieval History and is very excited about the prospect!