Teenagers’ lives can be filled to the brim with activities—school, athletics, relationships, part-time jobs, church attendance, family obligations and personal hobbies. With increased independence and opportunities for extracurricular pursuits, the teen years can be exciting but very busy. However, it is during these years that we set the foundation for many patterns of health that will affect us as adults.
Amidst the pressure and temptation to take part in so many activities, with so little time available, one of the first sacrifices many teens make is their sleep. Yet, sleep—along with nutritious diet and consistent exercise—is one of the most important yet overlooked factors for maintaining good overall health. When teens sacrifice sleep in order to make time for their many other commitments, they risk paying a high price in poor health. The Bible is filled with exhortations to avoid slumbering spiritually, but this does not mean that Christians should deprive themselves of the regular physical rest their bodies need.
So, as another school year begins for millions of teens around the globe, it is good to consider the vital role sleep plays in the health of young men and women as they grow, and to be aware of the dangers of neglecting this important aspect of health.
The teen years are a time of change—in almost every way. Not only is adolescence a time of physical growth and hormonal changes due to puberty; it is a time when the body’s need for sleep actually increases. It is no wonder that so many teens find it hard to wake up in the morning!
According to a Mayo Clinic report, “Everyone has an internal clock that influences body temperature, sleep cycles, appetite and hormonal changes. The biological and psychological processes that follow the cycle of this 24-hour internal clock are called circadian rhythms. Before adolescence, these circadian rhythms direct most children to naturally fall asleep around 8 or 9 p.m. But puberty changes a teen’s internal clock, delaying the time he or she starts feeling sleepy—often until 11 p.m. or later” (Teen sleep: Why is your teen so tired?, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research).
This drift toward going to sleep later often collides with a teenager’s early morning schedule to create a sleep-deficit condition. Sleep experts believe teens require from 8.5 to 9 or more hours of sleep each night, yet one study found that just 15 percent of teens reported sleeping 8.5 hours on school nights (Teens and Sleep, National Sleep Foundation). Many teens will try to “catch up” for the loss of needed weekday sleep by “sleeping in” much later on weekends, but this erratic pattern actually harms the quality of teen sleep, because it works against the natural human biological clock, which works best when sleep is consistent (“How Much Sleep Do I Need?,” TeensHealth.org).
We all know what it is like to lose sleep. Drowsiness, irritability and lack of concentration are just a few of the most obvious symptoms. Many would be surprised to learn that sleep problems can also lead to acne and weight gain, and can contribute to illness and depression. Consider: “73 percent of those adolescents who report feeling unhappy, sad, or depressed also report not getting enough sleep at night and being excessively sleepy during the day” (Teens and Sleep, National Sleep Foundation). For those driving a car or operating power tools, loss of sleep can be especially dangerous—even life-threatening.
In some cases, sleep problems can be traced to recognized disorders such as narcolepsy or sleep apnea, for which effective treatments are available. For others, however, lack of sleep is a lifestyle issue. Either way, rather than falling into a bad sleep habit that will bring decades of consequences, the teen years are the right time to establish patterns and priorities that will lay a foundation for a lifetime of sufficient sleep.
Sleep is a necessary part of everyone’s day. But rather than just waiting to “let it happen,” we can establish habits that lead to sound and effective sleep. Here are a few tips for more restful sleep (adapted from “Common Sleep Disorders in Teens,” WebMD.com).
Making sleep a priority is the key to developing good sleep habits. Resisting the pressure to over-commit to other activities is vital in order to protect this needed resource for health in youth and beyond. Habits set during the busy teen years will be easier to maintain in later life for many decades to come.
So, we need to resolve to remain spiritually awake and alert. We must put God first—ahead of the many activities that may tempt us to cut back on our sleep. In fact, good physical sleep is a vital tool for remaining spiritually awake! When we are well rested, we can more effectively focus on our Bible study and meditate profitably on God’s statutes. In fact, making God’s word the very last thing on our mind before we hit the pillow can be one of the best sleep habits of all. What better way could there be to end the day, and to begin preparation for the next day, than absorbing the mind in God’s word?
Teens who look to God for guidance know that He wants the best for all of us. He wants us to be in good health, and He created sleep for our benefit! “He gives His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2). We should learn to appreciate sleep as a positive part of each day, not as a burden that prevents us from doing more.