Promoting adequate sleep in young people

Promoting adequate sleep in young people

10 June 2021
Young girl sleeping with phone in her hand

This short article outlines the evidence for promoting adequate sleep for young people and what works to support young people and their parents.

Introduction

Young people need adequate sleep for healthy growth, learning and development.1,2 However, many do not get sufficient sleep.3,4 This can lead to daytime tiredness and a range of physical and mental health problems. This short article outlines the evidence for promoting adequate sleep for young people and provides research-based implications for professionals working with young people and their parents.

Why does sleep matter for young people?

Insufficient sleep in childhood and adolescence can lead to difficulty concentrating and poor memory, depressed mood5 and poor emotional regulation,6 as well as long-term health problems such as diabetes,7 obesity 8 and cardiovascular risk.9 The Australian Department of Health recommends between nine and 11 hours of uninterrupted sleep for young people aged 12–13 years and between eight and 10 hours of sleep for those aged 14–17 years. Consistent bed and wake-up times are also recommended.10

Growing Up in Australia:The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) found as young people got older their sleep duration reduced, particularly on school nights.11 Around a quarter of 12–13 year olds and a half of 16–17 year olds were not getting the minimum eight hours of sleep on school nights. The research showed that as they got older their bedtimes got later but their wake times remained the same.

What factors impact sleep?

A number of factors have been found to affect young people’s sleep (see Table 1).12

Table 1: Factors that affect sleep in young people
Factors that reduce sleep Factors that support sleep
Biological clock shifts Daytime physical activity
Increased time on schoolwork or other activities Regular bed and wake times
Challenges with mental health A relaxing sleep routine before bedtime
Use of electronic devices at night Ideal sleep environment

Biological changes associated with puberty lead to a shift in young people’s body clocks causing them to stay up later at night and sleep in later in the morning.13 Social changes that reduce young people’s sleep may include increases in schoolwork, more control over their own bedtimes, part-time work and additional time spent socialising or pursuing interests.

Problems with sleep and challenges with mental health increase during adolescence. Mental health is related to sleep; difficulties with mental health can affect sleep and insufficient sleep can increase the risk of mental health challenges and struggles.14,15

Screen use and social media activity is related to staying up later at night and shorter sleep duration for young people.16,17 This may be due to the time spent on screens replacing sleep, mental stimulation from the content or the effects of blue light from screens.18

Physical activity during the day is related to better sleep.19 A number of other factors support sleep: regular bed and wake times across the week; a relaxing sleep routine before bedtime (e.g. low lighting, having a bath, mindfulness techniques); and a quiet, dark bedroom at a comfortable temperature.

What works to support young people to get enough sleep?

The secondary school years are a vulnerable period for young people’s sleep when many do not get enough sleep for optimal health and learning. Education programs delivered to young people in school classrooms can highlight the importance of good sleep and provide information about lifestyle changes students can make to improve sleep.20

While being aware of their child’s shifting biological clock and their increasing need for autonomy, parents and caregivers can be encouraged to discuss the importance of reasonable and regular bedtimes and limits on screen use before bed.20

In dealing with young people with emerging or occasional difficulties in managing emotional distress, school wellbeing officers, social workers and youth workers can discuss sleep routines and relevant lifestyle factors as part of an early intervention strategy.

Young people with known, suspected or reported sleep disturbances should be treated promptly to address the risks of mental health challenges and other problems. This may involve referral to trained health care professionals for cognitive behavioural sleep interventions.21

How will you use the evidence or information in this short article in your work? We would love to hear from you in the Comments field below. 

Further reading and related resources

  • Sleep and young people
    This fact sheet from Orygen provides information for young people about the importance of sleep, along with practical tips for getting better sleep and coping with stress.
  • Sleep and teenagers: 12–18 years
    This online resource for parents from raisingchildren.net.au provides information on how to support good sleep for young people and how to recognise signs of sleep problems.
  • Sleep and wellbeing
    This report from VicHealth explores the links between sleep and mental wellbeing for young people.
  • Sleep and young people: Putting the myths to rest
    This resource from Headspace explores some common myths around sleep and offers advice for young people, parents and health professionals for dealing with sleep difficulties.
  • Facts about sleep for parents and school staff
    This fact sheet by the Sleep Health Foundation for parents and school staff includes a list of signs that may indicate a young person is not getting enough sleep.

References

1. Chaput, J. P., Gray, C. E., Poitras, V. J., Carson, V., Gruber, R., Olds, T. et al. (2016). Systematic review of the relationships between sleep duration and health indicators in school-aged children and youth. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 41(6), S266–S282.

2. Matricciani, L., Paquet, C., Galland, B., Short, M., & Olds, T. (2019). Children's sleep and health: A meta-review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 46, 136–150.

3. Owens, J., Au, R., Carskadon, M., Millman, R., Wolfson, A., Braverman, P. K. et al. (2014). Insufficient sleep in adolescents and young adults: An update on causes and consequences. Pediatrics, 134(3), e921–e932.

4. Gradisar, M., Gardner, G., & Dohnt, H. (2011). Recent worldwide sleep patterns and problems during adolescence: A review and meta-analysis of age, region, and sleep. Sleep Medicine, 12(2), 110–118.

5. Lovato, N., & Gradisar, M. (2014). A meta-analysis and model of the relationship between sleep and depression in adolescents: Recommendations for future research and clinical practice. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 18(6), 521.

6. Astill, R. G., Van der Heijden, K. B., Van Ijzendoorn, M. H., & Van Someren, E. J. W. (2012). Sleep, cognition, and behavioral problems in school-age children: A century of research meta-analyzed. Psychological Bulletin, 138(6), 1109–1138.

7. Cappuccio, F. P., Elia, L., Strazzullo, P., & Miller, M. A. (2010). Quantity and quality of sleep and incidence of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care, 33(2), 414.

8. Cappuccio, F. P., Taggart, F. M., Kandala, N.-B., Currie, A., Peile, E., Stranges, S., & Miller, M. A. (2008). Meta-analysis of short sleep duration and obesity in children and adults. Sleep, 31(5), 619–626.

9. Matthews, K. A., & Pantesco, E. J. M. (2016). Sleep characteristics and cardiovascular risk in children and adolescents: An enumerative review. Sleep Medicine, 18, 36–49.

10. Commonwealth Department of Health. (2019). Australian 24-hour movement guidelines for children (512 years) and young people (1317 years): An integration of physical activity, sedentary behaviour, and sleep. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Health. Retrieved from www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines

11. Evans-Whipp, T., & Gasser, C. (2019). Are children and adolescents getting enough sleep? In G. Daraganova & N. Joss (Eds.), Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children. Annual statistical report 2018 (pp. 29–46). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

12. Bartel, K. A., Gradisar, M., & Williamson, P. (2015). Protective and risk factors for adolescent sleep: A meta-analytic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 21, 72–85.

13. Owens, J., Au, R., Carskadon, M., Millman, R., Wolfson, A., Braverman, P. K. et al. (2014). Insufficient sleep in adolescents and young adults: An update on causes and consequences. Pediatrics, 134(3), e921–e932.

14. Bartel, K., Richardson, C., & Gradisar, M. (2018). Sleep and mental wellbeing: Exploring the links. Melbourne: Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.

15. Matricciani, L., Paquet, C., Galland, B., Short, M., & Olds, T. (2019). Children's sleep and health: A meta-review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 46, 136–150.

16. Stiglic, N., & Viner, R. M. (2019). Effects of screentime on the health and well-being of children and adolescents: A systematic review of reviews. BMJ Open, 9(1), e023191–e023191.

17. Alonzo, R., Hussain, J., Stranges, S., & Anderson, K. K. (2021). Interplay between social media use, sleep quality, and mental health in youth: A systematic review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 56, 101414.

18. Hale, L., & Guan, S. (2015). Screen time and sleep among school-aged children and adolescents: A systematic literature review. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 21, 50–58.

19. Matricciani, L., Paquet, C., Fraysse, F., Wake, M., & Olds, T. (2020). Sleep profiles of Australian children aged 11–12 years and their parents: Sociodemographic characteristics and lifestyle correlates. Sleep Medicine, 73, 53–62.

20. Peltz, J. S., Rogge, R. D., & Connolly, H. (2019). Parents still matter: The influence of parental enforcement of bedtime on adolescents' depressive symptoms. Sleep, 43(5), zsz287.

21. Blake, M. J., Sheeber, L. B., Youssef, G. J., Raniti, M. B., & Allen, N. B. (2017). Systematic review and meta-analysis of adolescent cognitive-behavioral sleep interventions. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 20(3), 227–249.


Featured image: GettyImages/Anchiy

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Authors

Tracy Evans-Whipp

Dr Tracy Evans-Whipp is a Research Fellow in the Longitudinal and Life-course Studies research and analysis team.

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