Are you a “morning person”? If you’re a teen, the answer is probably no—but that doesn’t mean you’re lazy. It has to do with a brain hormone called melatonin.
Studies show that teens’ circadian rhythms—biological “clocks” that drive behavioral responses during a 24-hour period—change during adolescence because of changes in the brain’s secretion of melatonin, which turns “on” in the evening and “off” in the morning. Melatonin signals your body that it’s tired.
Research has indicated that in teens, melatonin production turns off later in the day than in younger children. This means that teens likely will feel awake later at night and want to sleep in later in the morning.
Unfortunately, late-to-bed and later-to-rise sleeping times are out of sync with early school starts. Combined with the pressures to study late, take part in extracurriculars, work, and spend time with friends, it’s no wonder that teens find themselves tired much of the time.
Evidence suggests that sleep deprivation can be harmful to your brain and body. Too little sleep results in difficulty concentrating and learning. In fact, neuroscientists now think sleep is a critical time during which our brains consolidate learning, or put it all together so it sticks.
But there’s more. Constant sleepiness weakens your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick. A recent psychological study also showed a link between lack of sleep and mood disorders, as well as a link to general unhappiness, over-stimulation, anger and frustration, depression, substance use, and suicidal thoughts!
What’s Keeping You Awake?
Our hectic schedules don’t respect normal changes in teens’ sleep rhythms. But when your body tells you it’s tired at night, it’s best to go to sleep—and if you think watching TV or checking in on Facebook at midnight are good relaxers, think again. Screens act like daylight, tricking your brain into thinking it needs to wake up.
So while Benjamin Franklin’s famous saying, “Early to bed and early to rise” may not work well with the teen clock, there is ample evidence that getting enough sleep can help you stay healthy.