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Sleep and Mental Health in Teens

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Importance of Sleep

Mental and Emotional Health

Sleep can have an affect on how irritable someone is, and can produce exaggerated reactions in teenagers. These consequences can create greater conflict as teenagers grow up and take on new responsibilities and relationships. Furthermore, a lack of adequate sleep over time can have damaging effects on emotional development, while increasing risk of future mental health problems. It has been proved that mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, have been associated with a lack of sleep. Overall, getting enough sleep may help decrease these risk factors.

Physical Health

Sleep empowers the immune system, regulates hormones, and assists in muscle and tissue recovery. Physical development during primary ages can be disturbed from sleep deprivation. Researchers have also concluded that a lack of sleep may play a role in developing cardiovascular problems and increasing the risk of diabetes.


Sleep assists with promoting attention and concentration. It is also known to help with critical thinking and boost creativity. These traits are especially important for teens to possess throughout school and other career ventures.

Sleep deprivation may also impact impulsive behaviour. The amount of sleep a teen gets at night affects the development of their frontal lobes, which helps control impulsive behaviours. Studies have shown that teenagers with a lack of sleep are more likely to commit actions that put them in high-risk scenarios, such as drunk driving or riding a bicycle without a helmet.

This begs the question: if sleep is of such importance for developmental growth and well-being, why are teenagers more likely to stay up late?

Sleep Patterns in Teens

If sleep is important for teenagers, why are they more likely to stay up instead of going to sleep earlier? The recommended amount of sleep for teenagers is 8-10 hours; however, teenagers are likely to get less than this amount each night. In fact, teenagers have been known to stay up at night and label themselves as "night owls."

These sleeping patterns are a result of the body's response to physical changes during puberty, which makes it difficult to fall asleep before 11pm. Other factors that contribute to sleep deprivation in teenagers are part-time jobs, early school schedules, great amounts of homework, and extracurricular activities. Due to busy schedules and lives, anxiety may also cause a lack of sleep, having an individual stay up for many hours of the night.

The Science of Naps

Are naps effective? What times of the day should teens nap and for how long? A study done in the University of Delaware found a positive relationship between afternoon napping and fatigue. They observed adolescents in Jintan, China to measure midday napping, nighttime sleep duration, and sleep quality and performance on multiple neurocognitive tasks. In the end they found that habitual nappers or people that napped more had a better quality of sleep. Those who routinely napped were able to maintain concentration, and had better nonverbal reasoning ability and spatial memory. Researchers found that the best nap duration fell in between 30-60 minutes. It was recommended not to nap after 4 pm or to over nap.

Findings in the U.S. were very different. National Institutes of Health, School of Nursing assistant professor, Xiaopeng Ji, says, “Napping may serve as a function to replace sleep lost from the previous night. Consequently, that may interfere with the following night's sleep...In China, a midday nap is considered a healthy lifestyle...routine nappers are essentially trained to sleep well and sleep more at night." With that said, those who are used to having a nap during the afternoon are less likely to have interference with their bedtime sleep. Even so, the study’s findings could not make a solid conclusion.

Methods to Improve Sleep Habits

  • Limit screen time in the bedroom as the light from the screen could interfere with sleep. Increased screen time also encourages time spent interacting with social media or friends instead of getting enough sleep.

  • Try to create an appropriate sleeping environment by creating a dark cool room, and try to block out noisy environments with white noise.

  • Decreasing the amount of caffeine intake from coffees and sodas can increase the amount of deep sleep one gets.

  • Regular exercise can help improve sleep quality, but it is not to be done close to bedtime, as it might make it hard to fall asleep.

  • Parents can also encourage their children to set a firm bedtime. Research has found that this leads to less cases of sleepiness during the day. They should also help their child manage their schedule and avoid overworking themselves from participation in too many activities.


Gavin, M. (Ed.). (2019, February). How much sleep do i need? (for teens) - nemours kidshealth. Retrieved February 21, 2021, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/how-much-sleep.html

Ji, X., Li, J., & Liu, J. (2018). The relationship between midday napping and neurocognitive function in early adolescents. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 17(5), 537-551. doi:10.1080/15402002.2018.1425868

Napping can help tired teens' performance in school. (2018, April 25). Retrieved February 21, 2021, from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180425195621.htm

Suni, E. (2020, August 05). Sleep for teenagers. Retrieved February 21, 2021, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/teens-and-sleep

Teenagers and sleep: How much sleep is enough? (2021). Retrieved February 21, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/teenagers-and-sleep-how-much-sleep-is-enough

Article Author: Idil Gure

Article Editors: Victoria Huang, Sherilyn Wen