When Lack of Sleep Creates Teen Academic Issues

If you’re a teacher, especially an instructor to a first period high school class, you’ll likely have insight into which of your teen students are not getting the right amount of sleep. Although the day is early and it’s common to see some sleepy and tired faces, you’ll likely notice the students who regularly come in late and do so with fatigue and exhaustion. It’s no coincidence that those same students are not doing well in class. They’re frequently not paying attention, daydreaming, or in fact, sleeping during your instruction.


But how much sleep is enough? And what can parents do to support their teens in a regular sleep schedule so that it doesn’t create unnecessary academic issues. The truth is that teens, or more specifically children between the ages of 10 to 17, need more than just 8 hours of sleep. It’s frequently known that adults need a full eight hours of sleep to feel rested and rejuvenated. But for children, who are still developing in a myriad ways, they need more sleep. In fact, children and teens need about 9 to 9 ½ hours of sleep each night.


According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep is food for the brain. In teens, the brain is ablaze in its growth. Neurons are forming new connections and the prefrontal cortex, responsible for logical reasoning and thought processing, is also developing. Daniel Siegel, author of Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, writes that, “Life is on fire.” There is a burst of exploration, maturation, and growth. Typically, Siegel described in his book, teens are searching for what is new and novel, yearning for more social connection, responding to life emotionally, and bursting with creativity. For all these reasons, the teen brain needs its sleep.


If an adolescent, for example, needs to get up at 6am in order to be at school on time, they need to go to bed at 9pm. With this schedule, they will get 9 hours of sleep at night. However, it’s common for teens to sleep less then this, and when this happens regularly, there can be some health costs. The National Sleep Foundation points out that, for teens, there are some obvious consequences to not getting the right amount of sleep:


  • Limited ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems.
  • Forgetfulness with names, numbers, appointments, and completing assignments.
  • Development of acne and other skin problems.
  • Aggressive and inappropriate behavior.
  • Poor eating habits and possible weight gain
  • Possible increased use of alcohol and nicotine
  • Stress-related illnesses
  • Danger of not using equipment safely and driving while feeling tired.


Of course, these can easily lead to academic issues for teens. With the inability to concentrate combined with forgetfulness, adolescents who aren’t getting enough sleep are bound to see their grades decline. Furthermore, when sleep and eating schedules are disturbed, their psychological health is also as risk. In addition to the consequences listed above, a teen might be more at risk for depression or anxiety if a regular sleep schedule of approximately 9 hours is not adhered to.


Parents can support their children in getting the right amount of sleep. They can do this by abiding by a schedule at home. Although this might be difficult to establish at first, a teen who goes to bed and rises at the same time every day might feel the difference in his or her mental health. Having a regular schedule can help with getting the right amount of rest, and prevent academic issues such as declining grades, dysfunctional peer relationships, and behavioral concerns. If sleeping becomes a challenge, remove the distractions in the bedroom such as a television or computer.


No matter what age, everyone needs the right amount of sleep. It’s an essential part of physical and psychological health.




McBride, H. Lack of Sleep Impairs Teens’ Health, Academic Progress. By Parents-For Parents. Retrieved on June 10, 2014 from: http://www.byparents-forparents.com/lack-of-sleep.html

Teens and Sleep. National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved on June 10, 2014 from: http://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/teens-and-sleep



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