Article image

Popular teens, especially girls, struggle with sleep

The teenage years are a time of immense social and biological change. Navigating the complexities of friendship, academic pressure, and surging hormones can take its toll – especially on sleep. A recent study sheds light on an often-overlooked factor impacting teen sleep: popularity.

Teen popularity and sleep

Researchers studying over 1,300 Swedish teens uncovered a significant link between popularity and sleep patterns. Teens identified as “popular” (those receiving the most friendship nominations from classmates) consistently slept less than their less socially prominent peers.

This difference translated to approximately 27 minutes of lost sleep each night – a substantial amount for developing adolescents.

Of particular concern was the finding that popular girls were disproportionately affected. Compared to popular boys, they were much more likely to report symptoms of insomnia.

These symptoms included difficulties initiating sleep, maintaining sleep throughout the night, and experiencing early morning awakenings.

This suggests that there may be unique social pressures or dynamics that contribute to sleep disturbances in teenage girls with high social standing.

“Teenagers are arguably the most sleep-deprived population throughout the lifespan,” noted Dr. Serena Bauducco, the study’s lead author. “Previous studies show that 30 minutes of extra sleep can lead to improved mental health and better school performance.”

Popular teens often experience reduced sleep due to a complex mix of social, psychological, and physiological factors. Potential factors may include:

Social commitments and activities

Being popular generally involves a higher level of social engagement. Popular teens tend to have wider social circles and may be more involved in extracurricular activities, parties, and gatherings that can extend late into the night.

Managing these social commitments often leads to irregular and delayed bedtimes, throwing off internal clocks and reducing the overall amount of sleep.

The desire to stay connected and responsive in social networks can also mean that these teens spend more time on their phones or online, especially during evening hours when they should be winding down.

Increased stress and anxiety

The pressure to maintain a certain social image or status can be stressful. Popular teens may feel a constant need to meet or exceed the expectations of their peers, which can lead to anxiety and stress. These emotional states are closely linked to insomnia and other sleep disturbances.

The worry about social dynamics, such as who is dating whom, who got invited to which event, and maintaining one’s status in the peer group, can keep the mind active at night, making it hard to fall asleep.

Heightened alertness in the evening

Biologically, teenagers have a shifted circadian rhythm that naturally makes them more alert in the evenings. This shift is characterized by a later onset of melatonin production, the hormone that promotes sleep.

For popular teens, this natural alertness may be exacerbated by the excitement and stimulation from social interactions and digital engagement. The brain remains active for longer, delaying the onset of sleep and shortening the sleep window.

Emotional investment in relationships

Popular teens often invest a lot of emotional energy in maintaining their relationships. This can include supporting friends, managing conflicts, and engaging in more intense emotional interactions.

Studies suggest that such emotional investments can lead to rumination and worry at night, further impacting sleep.

For popular girls, this effect can be even more pronounced, as they generally engage in more emotionally intensive relationships than boys, which could explain why popular girls report more insomnia symptoms.

Cultural and peer influences

The cultural context and peer influences also play a significant role. In many social groups, staying up late might be seen as the norm, especially among popular teens who set trends.

There may also be an implicit expectation to be available and responsive at all hours, which encourages late-night phone use and texting, disrupting the natural sleep cycle.

Misconceptions about sleep needs in teens

Finally, there’s often a misconception among teens about how much sleep is actually needed. Popular teens, in particular, might underestimate the impact of sleep loss, prioritizing social interactions over sleep without fully understanding the long-term consequences on health, mood, and academic performance.

Interestingly, the study discovered this connection between popularity and sleep deprivation existed both before and after smartphones became ubiquitous. This indicates that social anxieties and expectations, not just screen time, could be driving the trend.

Chronic sleep deprivation in adolescents goes far beyond mere grogginess and fatigue. It lays the groundwork for several profound implications that can affect every aspect of their development and well-being.

Mental health consequences

Sleep is crucial for emotional regulation and mental health. Adolescents who consistently lack adequate sleep are at a heightened risk of developing serious mental health issues.

Sleep loss is directly linked to an increased risk of depression and anxiety, both of which are already prevalent concerns during teenage years.

Moreover, the hormonal imbalances caused by inadequate sleep can lead to erratic mood swings and irritability. These emotional and psychological strains not only affect a teen’s sense of well-being but also their ability to interact socially and maintain healthy relationships.

Academic performance impairment

Sleep plays a critical role in cognitive processes. When teens do not get enough sleep, their ability to concentrate, retain information, and engage in complex problem-solving is significantly compromised.

During sleep, especially during the deep REM stages, the brain processes and consolidates information from the day.

Lack of sleep interrupts these processes, leading to poor memory recall and decreased focus. As a result, sleep-deprived teens often display diminished academic performance, which can impact their educational trajectory and future opportunities.

Physical health risks

The effects of sleep deprivation extend into the physical realm, posing serious health risks. Chronic lack of sleep during the crucial years of physical development can lead to long-term health problems. For instance, sleep is integral to regulating metabolism, appetite, and energy use.

Sleep-deprived teens are at a higher risk of obesity due to hormonal imbalances that increase hunger and may lead to unhealthy eating patterns.

Furthermore, ongoing sleep deprivation has been linked to the development of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems in later life. The body needs sufficient sleep to maintain heart health, manage glucose levels, and repair itself, making consistent sleep critical for long-term physical health.

Study significance

“Here we show that popular teenagers reported shorter sleep duration. In particular, popular girls – but not boys – reported more insomnia symptoms,” said Dr Serena Bauducco, a sleep researcher at Örebro University and first author of the study. 

This study invites a crucial conversation about teen priorities. Does the pursuit of popularity warrant sacrificing essential sleep? It underscores the importance of:

  • Healthy sleep habits: Teens need consistent bedtimes, relaxing routines, and screen-free time before bed.
  • Managing social stress: Schools and parents can foster open discussions about social pressures and healthy boundary setting.
  • Reframing popularity: Emphasize that true friends support well-being, including getting enough sleep.

While this study offers valuable insights, scientists plan to investigate the nuanced relationship between social connectedness and sleep even deeper. This research could pave the way for targeted interventions to help teens maintain both a thriving social life and the restorative sleep they desperately need.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Sleep.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates. 

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and


News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day