Sleep and the Teenager


Many teenagers ask the best questions when it comes to how they should prepare for a future in the military. First—be a kid. Enjoy high school and all it has to offer. Learn how to work hard, be a team player and build good habits for life and leadership. This is all you need to do to prepare for military service when you are 14-15 years-old. Many teens work VERY hard and burn the candle at both ends with homework and extra-curricular activities. This can lead to disrupted sleep and binge sleeping. Here is a question from a 15 year-old who is fighting that battle now:

Mr. Smith, I am a heavy sleeper (could sleep for like 14 hours and still not want to get up). I know that in the Army (especially Special Forces) that is not tolerable.  What can I do to fix that? Alex

Alex – great question and I think it is great you are already considering joining the military at such a young age. I will say this: be patient and not in a rush to join just because you turn 18 years-old and graduate high school. Join the military WHEN YOU ARE READY.

Teens and Sleep You are likely still growing. In fact, young men and women have been known to still be growing at 20-21 years old. It takes nearly all the energy in your body to build a young man or woman. Growing requires sleep to be effective. It also requires eating more calories (good calories – proteins, carbs, fats). Often teen’s metabolism is higher during these growth spurts requiring more food and sleep thus requiring more calories and disrupting sleep patterns.

I have two teens who require the same sleep patterns as you (and virtually all teens). One is a night owl and will stay awake to 2-3 a.m. and wake up at noon. The other falls asleep by 9-10 p.m. and wakes up at 6-7 a.m.. Both are sleeping 8-9 hours a day – just on different schedules. Keeping this schedule in the summer when school is out is obviously easier, but when school begins at a set time followed by a long day of activities, missing sleep begins to take its toll. Usually, this causes sleeping during school, a drop in grades, and general irritability. Teens need sleep, but 14 hours is too much. There is no such thing as a sleep bank. Sleeping too long can interrupt your normal circadian rhythm making it difficult to sleep on your normal cycle later that evening. Strive for 8-9 hours and that will be enough for a growing teen. Typically, when my kids are going through a growth spurt (growing several inches in a six-month period) they eat more than normal and sleep more than normal.

Sometimes sleep is disrupted by growing pains or high energy levels at night, thus prompting kids to sleep to noon if allowed. From the UCLA Sleep Center:  Teens are at an important stage of their growth and development. Because of this, they need more sleep than adults. The average teen needs about nine hours of sleep each night to feel alert and well rested. There are many factors that keep teens from getting enough sleep. The good news is that by the time you are ready to serve in the military, most of your growing will be done (typically) and your requirement for sleep will decrease. But the Importance of Sleep cannot be stressed enough. Even the toughest of special ops need sleep or their abilities, like all humans, become severely downgraded.

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