Better Sleep Council: What Keeps High Schoolers Awake?

Research reveals homework can hurt teenagers’ sleep and performance in school

Teen asleep on laptopAccording to research from the Better Sleep Council, the nonprofit consumer-education arm of the International Sleep Products Association, homework — rather than social pressure — is the No. 1 cause of teenage stress, negatively affecting sleep and, ultimately, their academic performance.

American teenagers said they spend 15-plus hours a week on homework, and about one-third (34%) of all teens spend 20 or more hours a week on it. 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 say grades/test scores (75%) and/or homework (74%) — 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, teenagers say during the school year they experience stress levels higher than those reported by adults.

Further, more than half (57%) of teenagers surveyed do not feel they get enough sleep. Seventy-nine percent reported getting seven hours of sleep or less on a typical school night, and more than two-thirds (67%) say they get only five to seven hours of sleep on a school night. Only about one in five teens is getting eight 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 also are more likely to have trouble going to sleep and staying asleep.

“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,” says Mary Helen Rogers, vice president of marketing and communications for ISPA. “The BSC understands the impact sleep has on teenagers’ overall development, so we can help them reduce this stress through improved sleep habits.”

Other takeaways on the relationship between homework, stress and sleep in teenagers include:

Teens who feel stressed (89%) are more likely than less-stressed teens (65%) to say homework causes them stress in their lives.

More than three-quarters of teens (76%) who feel stressed say they don’t feel they get enough sleep, which is significantly higher than teens who are not stressed. (Only 42% feel they don’t get enough sleep.)

Teens who feel stressed (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, 33% are waking up at 6 a.m. or earlier.

Students who go to bed earlier and wake up earlier perform better academically than those who stay up late — even to do homework.

The BSC recommends teens between the ages of 13 and 18 should get eight to 10 hours of sleep a night. For teens to get the sleep their bodies need to improve their school performance, they should consider the following tips:

Establish a consistent bedtime routine.

Keep it quiet in the bedroom.

Create a relaxing sleep environment.

Cut back on screen time.

Examine their mattress.