According to new research from the Better Sleep Council (BSC) – the nonprofit consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association – homework, rather than social pressure, is the number one cause of teenage stress, negatively affecting their sleep and ultimately impacting their academic performance.
American teenagers said they spend 15+ hours a week on homework, and about one-third (34%) of all teens spend 20 or more hours a week. This is more than time spent at work, school clubs, social activities and sports. When asked what causes stress in their lives, about three-quarters of teens said grades/test scores (75%) and/or homework (74%) cause stress, more than self-esteem (51%), parental expectations (45%) and even bullying (15%). In fact, according to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America™ Survey, during the school year, teenagers say they experience stress levels higher than those reported by adults.
Further, more than half (57%) of all teenagers surveyed do not feel they get enough sleep. Seventy-nine percent reported getting 7 hours of sleep or less on a typical school night, more than two-thirds (67%) say they only get 5 to 7 hours of sleep on a school night, and only about one in five teens is getting 8 hours of sleep or more. Based on the BSC’s findings, the more stressed teenagers feel, the more likely they are to get less sleep, go to bed later and wake up earlier. They are also more likely to have trouble going to sleep and staying asleep – more often than their less-stressed peers.
“We’re finding that teenagers are experiencing this cycle where they sacrifice their sleep to spend extra time on homework, which gives them more stress – but they don’t get better grades,” said Mary Helen Rogers, vice president of marketing and communications for the Better Sleep Council. “The BSC understands the impact sleep has on teenagers’ overall development, so we can help them reduce this stress through improved sleep habits.”
The BSC recommends that teens between the ages of 13-18 get 8-10 hours of sleep per night. For teens to get the sleep their bodies need for optimal school performance, they should consider the following tips:
- Establish a consistent bedtime routine. Just like they set time aside for homework, they should schedule at least 8 hours of sleep into their daily calendars. It may be challenging in the beginning, but it will help in the long run.
- Keep it quiet in the bedroom. It’s easier to sleep when there isn’t extra noise. Teens may even want to wear earplugs if their home is too noisy.
- Create a relaxing sleep environment. Make sure the bedroom is clutter-free, dark and conducive to great sleep. A cool bedroom, between 65 and 67 degrees, is ideal to help teens sleep.
- Cut back on screen time. Try cutting off screen time at least an hour before bed. The blue light emitted from electronics’ screens disturbs sleep.
- Examine their mattress. Since a mattress is an important component of a good night’s sleep, consider replacing it if it isn’t providing comfort and support, or hasn’t been changed in at least seven years.
Other takeaways on the relationship between homework, stress and sleep in teenagers include:
- Teens who feel more stress (89%) are more likely than less-stressed teens (65%) to say homework causes them stress in their lives.
- More than three-quarters (76%) of teens who feel more stress say they don’t feel they get enough sleep – which is significantly higher than teens who are not stressed, since only 42% of them feel they don’t get enough sleep.
- Teens who feel more stress (51%) are more likely than less-stressed teens (35%) to get to bed at 11 p.m. or later. Among these teens who are going to bed later, about 33% of them said they are waking up at 6:00 a.m. or earlier.
- Students who go to bed earlier and awaken earlier perform better academically than those who stay up late – even to do homework.