Teenagers need a lot of sleep, but too many teens get nowhere near the recommended 9 hours a night, according to primary care physician Dr. Marc I. Leavey of Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.
There are a variety of reasons for this generational sleep deprivation.
Once a child hits puberty, Leavey says, there is a 2-hour biological shift in an adolescent’s internal clock, meaning that if you’re used to your child falling asleep at 9:00 p.m., he now may not be able to fall asleep until 11:00 p.m. Later sleep time should correspond to later waking time, but high schools generally start earlier than elementary or middle schools. If your kid has to be at school by 7:00 a.m., she may have to wake up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready and be there on time.
“Add the pressures of homework, after-school activities, jobs, social life and the powerful influence of screen time with smartphones, tablets, computers and games, and your teen may get several hours less sleep a night than needed,” says Dr. Leavey.
If you suspect that your teen isn’t getting enough sleep, Nationwide Children’s Hospital advises you to be alert for these signs:
- Mood changes. Teenagers are naturally moody, but being sleep deprived can exacerbate their normal moodiness, irritability, and crankiness, in addition to making them less able to control these feelings.
- Changes in behavior. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to participate in risky behaviors such as drinking and driving fast.
- Impaired cognitive ability. Too little sleep can cause problems with paying attention, memory, ability to make decisions, reaction time and creativity, all of which can affect performance in school and extra-curricular activities.
- Falling academic performance. Teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to receive poor grades, fall asleep in school and be late or miss school altogether, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Impaired driving. Sleep deprivation can impact driver alertness, attention, reaction time, judgment and decision-making, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. One of the worst drowsy driving windows occurs between 3:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., around the time many teens may be driving home from dismissal or after-school activities.
Here are some tips from Nationwide Children’s Hospital to help your teen get a good night’s sleep:
- Keep a regular sleep schedule. Encourage your teen to go to bed and wake up about the same time every day. The schedule should ensure that he gets the recommended 9 hours of sleep a night.
- Don’t encourage oversleeping on weekends. Sleeping in on weekends to catch up may seem like a good idea, but in reality it will just make it harder for your teen to get back to a regular sleep schedule when the weekend is over.
- Naps are OK. A short early-afternoon nap of 15 to 20 minutes can help fill the sleep requirement and avoid mid-afternoon drowsiness.
- Pull the plug. To minimize device time, Beverly Hills ophthalmologist Dr. Brian Boxer Wachler suggests confiscating smartphones and tablets 2 hours before bed. If the grumbling gets too loud, download an app like F.lux or CF.lumen that can block the sleep-disruptive blue light emitted by electronic devices.
- Talk to your pediatrician. If your teenager can’t fall asleep, snores (a symptom of sleep apnea), or seems excessively sleepy during the day, consult his physician. “It’s also important to pay attention to how your teen is behaving in general,” says Dr. Leavey. “Often, disturbed sleep is a sign of something else going on, from depression or anxiety to social problems at school.”
As any parent of teenagers knows, actually getting them to listen can be the hardest task of all. The University of Michigan suggests arming your teenager with the same information you have. Facts about teens and sleep from TeensHealth or drowsy driving from the National Sleep Foundation, written just for teens, may have more of an effect than all the parental reasoning, pleading or arguing.