According to research completed in the last decade and a half, sleeping in on the weekends causes extreme jet lag in teenage brains. So is a two-week long spring break the perfect time to recover from the late nights and early wake-up calls?
Recurring insufficient sleep and daily adjustments to bedtimes and wake-up times lead to metabolic dysregulation that sleeping in on weekends can’t recover. The National Sleep Foundation found that if you sleep six hours a night for two weeks, and “sleep in” an extra ten hours, reaction times and the ability to focus decrease more than if you had pulled an all-nighter. Harvard Health reported that people who sleep in on the weekends experience the same differences in their bodily functions, as people who remained sleep-deprived over the weekend.
Scientists agree that due to the second developmental stage where the brain and body are maturing, teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep a night and may sometimes be pushed to 7 or 11 hours. Currently, on average, teenagers receive 6.5 to 7.5 hours of sleep per night, and there’s a reason why.
Puberty hormones shift the circadian rhythm about two hours forward, resulting in teenagers being tired two hours later and awake two hours later than children and adults. When teenagers have to wake up early for school, they rack up “sleep debt.” Electronic devices also lead to sleep being reduced by about 20 minutes a night, according to Australia’s Sleep Health Foundation. Insufficient sleep results in a teenager’s brain to become over-stimulated and less-able to fall asleep at night, creating a vicious cycle. The result? 87% of high-school students in the U.S. get less than the recommended amount, causing detrimental health effects over a long period, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. The more short term consequences include risk-taking behavior, depression, and sleep-deprived driving that is equivalent to driving drunk.
In an attempt to compensate by sleeping in on the weekends, teenagers end up damaging their circadian rhythm and self-induce, on average, five-hours of jet lag. Even if you feel energized after sleeping-in, there’s a large amount of “sleep debt” being carried around that can’t be caught up on a 1:1 ratio or in a regular weekend sleeping-in routine. The most effective way to “catch-up on sleep” is slow and steady, and spring break provides that perfect opportunity.
But to completely heal your circadian rhythm, it’ll take far more than two weeks. There are a few ways to restore a more healthy and natural circadian rhythm. It starts by setting yourself up for success by putting away electronics and relaxing before your body even feels tired, going to bed immediately when you begin to feel fatigued or drowsy and leaving the alarm clock off and allowing yourself to wake up naturally. In the beginning, your body may be calling for ten or more hours, but continue this practice, and the amount of time you sleep will begin to decrease. Once you wake-up, feel the sun on your face. The sun naturally helps to revive your internal clock. When school is back in session, forcing yourself to go to bed a half-hour or an hour earlier is also a good way to keep your circadian rhythm healthy.