Expert Views on How Teen Sleep Can Be Improved During the Pandemic

6 min read

Last Modified 4 May 2021 First Added 18 March 2021

By Letara Buckley

There’s a notion that teens can sometimes be a bit lazy, overly sleepy, and like to lie in until early afternoon wherever possible.

While this isn’t true for all teens, the ones who struggle to stay awake do tend to have a good reason for doing so – whether that’s biological or psychological.

When you add lockdowns into the mix, what does this mean? Increasing sleep problems unfortunately. This article investigates how teen sleep has been affected since the start of the pandemic and the ways in which you can help yourself or your teenager overcome sleep deprivation. Dreams recently hosted a roundtable event where they gathered experts’ views on the issue, so look out for their thoughts and tips below.

Why are teenagers sleepy?

Teenagers have a different sleeping pattern compared to children and adults, and this is due to their circadian rhythm (internal body clock) shifting by around 2-3 hours – also known as a sleep phase delay. It means they tend to want to go to bed later and get up later too.

Healthline states that teenagers’ melatonin (the sleepy hormone) ‘may not rise until closer to 10 or 11 pm, or even later.’ This means their peak sleepy hours are from around 3-7am. You can read more about circadian rhythms and how they affect sleep here.

Common teen sleep complaints

So, with lockdowns and the accompanying common feelings of anxiety, worry, fear and loneliness, teen sleep is bound to have taken a hit. Dreams conducted an exclusive survey with YouGov * on adolescent sleep and unfortunately, the statistics show that a number of teens are struggling to get a full night’s rest:

  • 1 in 3 teenagers (28%) suffered sleep problems during the pandemic
  • 25% of school-age teenagers have struggled to sleep throughout night
  • Anxiety has been impacted sleep, with fears surrounding future prospects (49%) and the shift to remote learning (54%) were the main causes for anxiety over the last 12 months, closely followed by changes to exam timetables (36%) and not being able to attend school or college (33%)
  • 1 in 5 teens have slept fewer hours than they used to, whilst 1 in 4 have struggled to sleep through the night
  • Almost a third of adults (31%) have struggled with poorer sleep whilst over 4 in 10 have struggled to sleep through the night
  • As a result, teens are turning to medical help to get a better night’s sleep. A third (33%) are taking action to aid their sleeping, including turning to sleeping pills, CBD and counselling (you can read more about CBD oil for sleep here).


Dreaming and nightmares during lockdown

Not only has the quantity of teen sleep been negatively impacted during the pandemic, the sleep quality unfortunately has too. 1 in 5 teens are having more vivid dreams * and this is turn leads to broken sleep and sometimes the inability to drift back off during the night. Another recent study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that more than half of all distressing dreams reported involved the topic of Coronavirus. In addition, the most stressed-out participants had the most Covid-related dreams. Speaking at the roundtable event, Dr Ben Carter, Senior Lecturer at Kings College London, told Dreams that

“nightmares or vivid dreams are often the manifestation of something not being resolved.”

This seems very apt what with the current pandemic and its ongoing uncertainty.

Sleep solutions during lockdown

On the Sleep Matters Club website, we have a dedicated hub for sleep during lockdown. Here you’ll find several articles that answer common sleep questions and complaints. The Dreams survey found that a whopping 86% of teens use their bed for something other than sleep – whether that be gaming, watching TV, studying on their laptop, etc. To help with this blurring of the bed being a sleeping space as well as a working area, check out this article, ‘How working in bed affects your productivity.’ It lists the reasons why it’s inadvisable to work from your bed but suggests ways to ease the negative impact if you have no other choice during lockdown.


What can be done to improve teen sleep?

Dr. Carter said that sleep needs to be a priority for everyone but is particularly important for teenagers. As a specialist in the effects of technology on sleep, he said that even the presence of a device in the bedroom can have a negative impact on sleep. He also recommended getting out early in the morning for fresh air and doing some exercise, as this will help to regulate your circadian rhythm.

Parents should also try to speak to their children about their sleep and acknowledge that it is normal to struggle with it, particularly in challenging times. Linda Meade, Chief Customer Officer at Dreams advised parents to ask gentle questions, such as ‘how did you sleep last night?’.

Schools should also take on some of the responsibility of helping teens with their sleep. Whilst flitting between in-person learning and virtual studying has been tough, now that restrictions are being lifted, Dr.Carter recommends that schools encourage their students to make sleep the centre of their routine. This could be by scheduling physical activity first thing or by having exams later in the day, or simply educating students on effective sleep hygiene.

There are many online resources for tackling sleep issues. Speaking at the roundtable event, Victoria Zamperoni, Senior Research Officer at Mental Health Foundation, recommended the NHS Every Mind Matters website. Here, you can take a short quiz to assess how you’re feeling, and it then gives you an individualised plan with tips for sleeping and improving your mental wellbeing. Dr. Carter said that if you’re still struggling after seeking help from online resources and your GP, there are sleep care services throughout the UK to look into. Some are privately owned, and others are held within NHS hospitals.

In summary

It turns out that the stereotypical ‘lazy teens’ notion is a bit of a harsh remark to make – especially during a pandemic. We hope the statistics and advice within this article have proven to be useful and we wish you and your teenager a great night’s sleep every night.

* Research commissioned by YouGov on behalf of Dreams with 2,017 13-17-year-olds. Survey conducted between 18th December 2020 – 5th January 2021.

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