Do you know how many hours of sleep your teen gets each night? As kids get older, many parents become lax about monitoring their children’s sleep. The CDC reports that 7 out of 10 high school students and 6 in 10 middle school students do not get enough sleep on school nights. Not enough sleep can put a child’s mental, physical and emotional well-being at risk.
What you need to know about teen sleep
The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that teens 13 to 18 years old get 8 to 10 hours of sleep every 24 hours on a regular basis. Teens who regularly sleep less than 8 hours per day have trouble paying attention during class, which affects school performance. Sleep-deprived teens are also at higher risk for health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and depression. Inadequate sleep in this age group is associated with increased risk of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
When a child reaches puberty, the sleep-wake cycle shifts. This shift can be up to two hours later than what it was before. As a result, your teen has a harder time falling asleep at an earlier bedtime and more trouble getting up early for school. Research shows that the average teen has trouble falling asleep before 11 p.m. and waking up before 8 a.m. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends delayed school start times to help teens get enough sleep. The recommendation is based on evidence that associates optimal sleep in teens with lower rates of obesity, lower rates of depression, reduced numbers of drowsy driving crashes and improved academic performance.
What parents can do
Parent intervention can help prevent sleep deprivation and the increased risks that result. Here is what you can do:
Monitor how much sleep your teen gets each night. Many parents don’t know how much sleep their child gets during the week and on weekends. To help your teen avoid the negative effects of inadequate sleep, you might start by asking her to keep a sleep diary for a period of time. Go to the Sleep Foundation at sleepfoundation.org/sleep-diary to download an example.
Talk to your teen about sleep.
Ask your teen how he feels when he doesn’t get enough sleep. Kealing Middle School student Jonas said, “When I don’t get enough sleep, I have trouble learning. It’s like I’m in a fog. My brain forgets and doesn’t hold information. My gaming is off. I just don’t have the quick movements and hand-eye coordination that I need to win. It’s hard to have fun during the day when you’re tired.”
Stress specific advantages of getting enough sleep. It’s much easier to make changes to facilitate a good night’s sleep if your teen understands how he will benefit. If your teen focuses on academic achievement, explain how adequate sleep will boost school performance. If your teen plays sports, emphasize improved stamina and sharper response time.
Set a bedtime to help your teen get at least eight hours (or more) of sleep. Fewer parents set limits around bedtime as children get older. One study found that teens without set bedtimes, or with bedtimes after midnight, were more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal ideation than teens whose parents helped establish bedtimes. When you calculate the best bedtime, take into account how long it usually takes for your teen to fall asleep.
Keep the same bedtime every night. Sleep experts stress the need for going to bed at about the same time every night and getting up at the same time every morning. This reinforces the natural sleep-wake cycle, making it easier to go to sleep. Try to keep a fairly consistent bedtime seven days a week. See the sidebar to learn more about the impact of staying up late and sleeping in on weekends.
Stop use of electronics at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Devices, such as cell phones, tablets and computers, interfere with the body’s sleep processes. The light from these devices suppresses the production of melatonin and makes your body think that it is time to wake up. Counteract this by removing your teen’s phone and devices from the bedroom at night. Use a regular alarm clock as opposed to a device’s alarm function. Some parents have a separate internet login for each child and automatically shut the internet off at a specific time each night.
Help your child establish a wind-down bedtime routine. A consistent bedtime routine is an effective way to help the body wind down at night. This may include having dinner, doing homework, taking a bath or shower, reading a book, doing breathing or relaxation exercises and going to bed. Whatever the routine is, it primes the subconscious that it is time for bed, so that when the teen lies down, sleep comes more easily.
“Staying up late on the weekend and then sleeping until late in the morning doesn’t support the sleep-wake cycle. When teens stay up until late hours on the weekend, their bodies respond with jet lag symptoms by Sunday night. It takes 3 or 4 nights to readjust. By that time, it is the weekend, and the cycle starts all over again.” – Dr. Bradley Berg, Pediatrician
Brenda Schoolfield is a freelance medical writer based in Austin.