March 11, 2016 —

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at the results of a study involving sleep behavior and stress levels among teens. 

Getting your teen into bed at a normal hour can be a challenging. While it may not seem like that big of deal when your teen stays up an extra hour or two, it can have implications on their productivity and health in the long run. A recent study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that adolescents who do not receive sufficient sleep are more reactive to stress, which could in turn contribute to academic, behavioral and health issues.

The participants in the survey were urban, black adolescents who were 13-years-old on average. This particular population was chosen because a lack of sleep was already known to have a negative impact on their functioning. The participants took an adolescent version of the Trier Social Stress Test to measure their physiological responses to stress. The study assessed two dimensions of sleep: sleep duration and sleep problems from the perspectives of adolescents and their parents, as well as cortisol levels before and after social stress. Afterwards, the participants and their parents reported on the adolescents' sleep habits.

The most commonly reported sleep problems were:

  • A need for multiple reminders to get up in the morning
  • Not having a good night's sleep
  • Feeling tired or sleepy during the day
  • Not being satisfied with sleep 

The adolescents who reported sleep problems showed to have a higher level of cortisol release as well. Cortisol is also known as the “stress hormone.” 

Interestingly, the study found that female adolescents are more sensitive to sleep problems as they showed to have greater cortisol release levels than males who reported suffering from sleep problems. 

Additionally, the study discovered that longer sleep duration does not reduce cortisol release. Longer sleep duration actually had stronger cortisol response. This result could be explained by considering that longer sleep duration does not necessarily reflect higher-quality sleep.

While it is important that teens are getting enough sleep, parents should be sure to consider the quality of their teen’s sleep as well to help ensure better cognitive, emotional and physical health outcomes. 

Does your teen seem extra stressed? It may be the result of poor sleep quality. Try talking with your teen about how they are sleeping. You can start the discussion by mentioning that would love to discuss a recent blog post that you read. After you have the conversation, let us know how it went by commenting below!