Why are teenagers always tired?

It's more than because of all those all-nighters!

It’s close to impossible to get up in the mornings, and you’re ridiculously tired throughout the day. You know you need more sleep. Maybe your New Year’s resolution was to go to bed earlier. But that never happens. Come 11pm, you feel even more awake than you did during the day and sleep is the last thing on your mind. Sound familiar? It’s actually just called being a teenager.

Most children are what we would consider ‘early birds’ - they get tired quite early in the day and like to wake up with the sun. However, when you hit puberty, your body clock shifts and you become more like a ‘night owl’ - you like to wake up late and stay awake late at night. In fact, the stereotype of lazy teenagers is biological; it’s just as uncontrollable as any other aspect of growing up. Asking the average teenager to go to bed at ten and wake up at six is like asking the average adult to fall asleep at seven or eight pm and expecting them to wake up and function properly at three or four in the morning – it's neither healthy nor possible!

But why do people have different body clocks? This probably dates back to when humans lived in groups. In the evening, the early birds could go to sleep whilst the night owls, who were still wide awake and alert, could watch over and defend them. Similarly, when the early birds woke up, they could watch over the now sleeping night owls. This is much less risky than having eight or so hours in which the entire group is defenceless.

Scientists believe that the difference between teenage and adult body clocks also has an evolutionary advantage. Being awake and unsupervised meant that teenagers could spend time on their own, in which they could socialise and operate independently for a few hours, helping them learn skills they would need to survive in adulthood.

Although it may have been useful evolutionally, teenagers being extreme night owls find it very hard to function in the modern world, with early school start times and parents who expect you to be in bed before ten. The whole system is never going to change, but tomorrow morning when you feel sleep deprived, just blame it on the cavemen.

Ruby V