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Teens and Sleep Deprivation

Making Time for Sleep and Homework


Young man sleeping in sleeping bag on floor with lamp, laptop and open book
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Studies suggest that teenagers often sacrifice their sleep time when it comes to making choices about time management. The problem is, studies also show that they need a lot more sleep than they probably get. More and more studies are showing that there is a direct link between sleep and academic success.

According to a study by sleep expert Mary Carskadon, PhD, teens should receive more than nine hours of sleep every night. That's a great thought, but is it possible? Think about it--do you ever sleep that long?

OK, maybe on the weekends. But very few teens receive sufficient sleep on school nights.

Dr. Carskadon's study suggests biology might be the cause for sleep deprivation among teens. Their internal time clocks are just a little different during teenage years--and late nights and sleep-ins are a natural part of growing into adulthood.

Lack of sleep makes it more difficult for students to concentrate in school, especially during those early-morning classes.

A more recent study shows that sacrificing sleep to study actually does more harm than good. The sleep that you miss when you stay up late to study will cause "academic problems" the following day. It's just not worth sacrificing sleep to study!

Studies About Sleep and Memory

Our ability to remember is related to our ability to learn, and there have been many studies about sleep and its effects on memory, learning, and retention. These studies suggest that good sleep habits are essential to good study habits.

  • One study about learning languages shows that it is good to study right before going to sleep because "there is near-consensus that sleep promotes learning of certain types of perceptual memories." In other words, sleep helps students store memories to be retained and remembered the next day.
  • Another study shows that sleep strengthens memories so they become clear and resistant to interferences and distractions.
  • A study from 1999 suggests that information becomes "cemented" in our brains as we sleep.

These studies show that sleep is important, but the also suggest that it may be most helpful to study right before bed time.

Avoiding Sleep Deprivation

So what can you do if you know you aren't getting enough sleep?

Turn off the TV at night. Some teens fall asleep with the TV on, and some are so used to the noise they think they can't sleep without it. Not true! The TV noises and flashing lights will only keep you from getting a sound sleep. If you can remember anything you hear during your sleep, it's a sure sign you're not sleeping well.

Try switching to caffeine-free drinks. Reduce caffeine by switching to something healthier, like bottled water. If that's too much to ask, at least try a caffeine-free version of your favorite drink!

Limit after-school activities. It's hard to do, but try to limit your extracurricular activity. Decide once and for all if good performance and your college potential is important, and then set priorities. Sometimes you just have to make a hard choice and stick to it.

Don't think too hard right before bed time. If you have calculus homework, you might not want to put it off until night. It's harder to relax and get to sleep when your mind is stuck in the deep-thinking mode. It takes awhile to unwind, so maybe you should tackle the hardest subject earlier.

Same for crazy video games. Video games may also cause your brain to enter the overdrive zone. If you play video games, don't do them just before you go to bed.

Turn off the cell phone. What's so important it can’t wait until morning? Unless you have a really good reason (like a working parent who may need to reach you) turn it off and get some rest.

Keep track of time. Often, students have great intentions, but other tasks seem to keep them up late, time after time. That's because teens have to develop an understanding of time management and task completion. It's hard to put a timetable on things like running an errand or completing a science experiment.

Start keeping track of things you do routinely and the amount of time needed to do certain tasks. Then plan ahead so you can get to bed on time.

Play music if you want, but not too loud. Many people play music at night. If it doesn't bother you, go ahead. Don’t play it too loud, though, or it will disrupt your sleep.

Do you really need that after-school job? This might be a really tough decision, too. Some students need to work so they can pay for car insurance or save up for college. You'll just have to decide on your own, what's necessary and what's not.


American Academy of Sleep Medicine. "Better Sleep Is Associated With Improved Academic Success." ScienceDaily, 15 Jun. 2009. Web. 25 Sep. 2012.

Frieden, Joyce. Teen Sleep Deprivation a Serious Problem. WebMD. 8 November, 2009. Web. 25 Sep. 2012.

University of Notre Dame. "Confusion can be beneficial for learning." ScienceDaily, 20 Jun. 2012. Web. 25 Sep. 2012.

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