What to Know About Teenagers and Sleep: ParenTalks Panel

It is widely described as an "epidemic" among medical experts.

"Sixty per cent of teenagers sleep approximately one to two hours less than 20 years ago and that amounts to about 60 per cent of all teenagers being sleep deprived."

Dr. Indra Narang, pediatrician and sleep medicine specialist at SickKids, shared those stark statistics during ParenTalks, presented by St. Michael's College School (SMCS), earlier this month.

SMCS ParenTalks panel on sleep in teens


"Very prolonged periods of sleep deprivation are not compatible with survival," Dr. Narang described during the live webcast. "And particularly in children, as the brain is developing, sleep is very important to consolidate your memory for learning, for emotional regulation, behavioral regulation, immunity, and of course, toxin removal during the night. I always say, this is the freebie --- you don't have to pay to sleep. It's the most effective way to reset your brain and body health every day."

The second ParenTalks presentation of the 2021-22 academic year also featured panellists, Dr. Mark Broussenko '07, family physician and hospitalist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and John Connelly, Director of Student Affairs at SMCS.

Discussion topics included:

  • Tips to balance sleep with schoolwork, social, sports, and other activities 
  • Family strategies to maintain and sustain healthy sleep habits
  • The pros and cons of napping
  • Sleep disorder management
  • How to manage sleep with an ADHD diagnosis

Here are some of the highlights:

Dr. Indra Narang, Sleep Medicine Specialist, SickKids

Dr. Indra Narang, SMCS ParenTalks panelist

"Right now, we recognize that in adulthood, one-third of adults are sleep deprived. That's because of our 24 hour, seven days a week lifestyle, which we know is worse since COVID. Technology plays a major role in this 24-7 lifestyle, social media, the ability to connect with anybody that you want at any time of the night is incredible, but it has its detrimental consequences. And competing priorities, balancing the enormous amount of work, extra-curricular activities, social activities, as well, really takes its toll because for a long time, adults have really believed that sleep is an expendable commodity. 

“In adulthood, that chronic sleep deprivation now is a significant risk factor for either occurrence of disease or making disease worse, such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease, dementia, diabetes control, kidney disease, and stroke. One of the things I remember several years ago, really recognizing that actually, chronic sleep deprivation is associated with increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. That was a big wake-up call for me.

“I think at an individual level, we know that sleep hygiene and good sleep habits cannot just be placed on an individual child. And we very much promote family strategies for improving sleep hygiene."

Dr. Mark Broussenko '07, Family Physician, Hospitalist CAMH

Dr. Mark Broussenko, SMCS ParenTalks panelist

"Sleep is one of the early barometers and one of the classic disease-defining illnesses that's associated with depression and anxiety. Disturbances at either end of the sleep cycle --- some people find that they can't sleep at all, because they find that they have repetitive and intrusive thoughts. If people find that they're sleeping much more than they should, they end up feeling tired and overslept throughout the day.

“Often one of the things that I find is that many people are oversubscribed. We're overcommitted. 

“There's a trade-off between how many things you can do and how well you can do [them]. And that is a basic natural tension of adulthood. 

“Having a sense of your own boundaries is an essential and critical skill for you to develop, especially as an adolescent, because saying no to things only gets harder as you get older, because the things are more compelling."

John Connelly, Director of Student Affairs, SMCS

John Connelly, Director of Student Affairs at SMCS

"We tend to focus, in our work in Student Affairs, on the acronym --- we use as S.P.I.E.S. 

“We look at the well-being of students from a spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and social level, all of those areas. And arguably, sleep is one of those things that along with diet and exercise that intersect all of those things. So, if you are lacking, if you're in a state of sleep deprivation, as a student, you're suffering and struggling with at least one of those areas, and almost always, most of those areas. And that has an impact on students' social experiences, as well as on their educational experiences."

Related links:

ParenTalks archive