The teenage years are a period of transition for the brain, and whilst teenage behaviour is often considered careless and unreasonable, these traits are actually part of the development into adulthood.
Our brains continue development from birth until our mid-twenties and the teenage years in particular are a period of intense neural development and rewiring. As well as developing new neural pathways, existing ones are also filtered or “pruned” of those which are no longer needed so that the brain can become faster and more efficient.
This development process starts at the base of the brain, near the spinal cord, and moves to the front and the top. The final area to develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for our higher executive functions, such as impulse control and decision-making. This explains teenagers’ difficulties to moderate their behaviour and make consistent, reasonable decisions.
Sleep is especially important during teenage years and 15% of teens do not get enough sleep. Because their brains are going through such big changes, sleep is crucial for maintaining relationships and friendships and performing to the best of their ability at school. For more tips about how to sleep better visit the Rest page.
When puberty hits, melatonin is released later, around nine or 10pm, meaning it is natural to not be able to fall asleep before 11pm. Additionally, the process of ‘pruning’ generally happens later on during a night’s sleep, usually in the early morning, and certainly after midnight. This explains why most teenagers prefer to sleep late, and why it is important, if possible, to let them. Indeed, some schools have changed their start times to allow teenagers to sleep later in the morning, and there is a current research project Teensleep, which is looking into the effects of making these changes.
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