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Updated on April 22, 2013

Every parent with kids aged 13 – 19 will have experienced the frustration of trying to get them out of bed and to classes in a morning.  Typically they stay up late at night; then lie in bed until lunchtime

Are they simply being lazy or is there something else going on?

Discount the fact that some of them may have been up all night smoking ‘herbal’ preparations (which in itself is a major contributor to disturbed sleep patterns) and discount the fact that the majority of teenagers are difficult to manage and dig a little deeper.  


You may be surprised to learn that this apparent ‘laziness’ is in fact a matter of biological programming.  Teens are biologically programmed to need more sleep and at different times from adults.

During the teenage years sleep patterns become disrupted. The vast majority of teens have boundless energy when it comes to staying up late playing computer games and watching late night TV but when school time comes around that energy has dissipated.  It is tempting to believe that this is sheer laziness or bad behaviour; however we would be wrong to assume this is all that is going on with our ‘little darlings’

Research suggests that teenagers' brains are wired differently to adults'. Generally, the average teenagers’ brain has a time delay of two hours compared to an adult. Our bodies and minds do not work in the same way throughout the day.  We have a 24 hour timing mechanism which regulates all our bodily functions.  When darkness falls; so do the heart rate, blood pressure and urine output. Then when the sun rises our bodies start to wake up.

The average adult begins to secrete Melatonin – the hormone which helps us fall asleep, at around 10pm but teens don’t begin to secrete the hormone until at least 1am. This hormonal shift causes teens to feel more alert later at night and to wake up later in the morning.

Sleep Deprivation

Getting enough sleep at night is essential for teenagers because it is while they are asleep that they release a hormone called hGH or Human Growth Hormone that is essential for their growth spurt.  Although they need more sleep than adults or small children they typically get much less than either.  An average teenager is actually getting less than 7 hours sleep per night when they actually need around 9 hours.

Because we are getting them up at 8am for school we are depriving them of that essential sleep and this can have consequences.   Not only are the kids not reaching their full potential in school but we could be putting their mental and physical health at risk too.  In America, studies showed that many teenagers were driving to school whilst drowsy!

Fact!  Teenagers are moody, uncommunicative and bad tempered.   Maybe, just maybe we are making matters worse by getting them up too early.  Worryingly, it seems that most parents feel that their children are getting sufficient sleep.

School staff would report otherwise – a study carried out in secondary schools showed that at least a third of pupils were either dozing off or falling fully asleep at their desks.

What can be done?

Some American schools have delayed the start of their classes to give their students extra time in bed following a study undertaken by National Sleep Foundation (NSF) 

Last year in the UK a school in North Tyneside followed this lead and carried out a trial; scheduling classes to start at 11am rather than 9am. It was found that pupils were more alert and their capacity for learning greater in the afternoon than in the morning.  

So perhaps one day soon we adults will 'wake up'  and let our sleeping teens lie.

© Susan Bailey 2009 All Rights Reserved


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