Napping can solve teens’ sleep problems

Dr Sarah Blunden, Senior Research Fellow, Appleton Institute.

Adolescence can be a difficult time for a range of reasons. Sleep is one of them.

In fact, adequate sleep is a critical factor in adolescent health and wellbeing. It’s essential for:

  • attention, concentration and learning
  • control of behaviour, with insufficient sleep leading to irritability, aggression, hyperactivity & risk taking
  • control of emotion, with insufficient sleep contributing to depression, anxiety and stress.

All of this has implications for the development of social, sporting and academic competence. Short sleep has even been implicated with increased risk of obesity!

There are large individual differences in how much sleep adolescents need, but sleep researchers think that in general, they need somewhere between 8 and 9 hours of sleep per night.

Unfortunately most adolescents report that they are sleepy and would like more sleep. Given the importance of sleep, especially for mood, wellbeing and learning, this can lead to significant problems.

So what’s interfering with teens’ sleep?

During adolescence there’s a marked delay in the timing of sleep due to the interplay between puberty hormones and sleep hormones.
This means that adolescents often simply aren’t tired when the clock says go to bed. They can take a long time to get to sleep which can be very frustrating and boring, so they often spend their time on social media, or chatting to friends or gaming. Rather than helping them sleep, this keeps them alert and awake and so makes the sleep problem worse. Then in the morning, they can’t sleep in because of school and sometimes sport or work commitments.

The result is that adolescents become sleep deprived. They build up what is called a sleep debt.

So what do adolescents do to catch up their sleep?

The vast majority of adolescents sleep in longer on the weekends. They try and catch up their ‘sleep debt’ that has built up over the week. They may sleep in a few extra hours on Saturday morning, which of course makes them go to bed later on Saturday night and wake up even later on Sunday morning. Come Sunday night they can’t get to sleep because they slept in too long.

Problem ? Yes.

Solution ? NAPPING

Napping for 20 minutes or so after school (not too close to normal bedtime) can give them an extra three hours of alertness. This has been shown in MANY research studies. It’s true that napping can help restore alertness, enhance performance, and reduce mistakes and accidents.

Avoiding caffeine, and especially keeping wake times fairly consistent, can help teens catch up on their sleep debt, increase alertness and not muck up their sleep on the weekends.
Problem solved!

Sarah Blunden is a Senior Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Appleton Institute, specialising in Paediatric sleep. She has spent the past 10 years researching, treating and lecturing on children’s sleep both nationally and internationally, as well as delivering education and information sessions to the community, educators and health care professionals. Sarah is recognised as an authority on children’s sleep and is widely published in the field.