Advice to help your teens get enough sleep

Teen girl is sleeping

This fall, California will introduce a unique law that will push back the start of classes for most public middle and high schools. High schools in the state cannot begin until 8:30 a.m., and for middle schools it is 8 a.m. Research has shown that when teens get more sleep, attendance and academic performance improve.

Sumit Bhargava, MD, specialist in pediatric sleep medicine at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, says that sleep must be a priority because it is important to the overall health of all children and adolescents.

“Sleep has been postulated to help with brain development and memory development,” he says. “Furthermore, adequate sleep seems to protect against chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.”

Most teenagers suffer from sleep deprivation

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seven out of ten high school students don’t get enough sleep. dr Bhargava explains that compared to elementary school students, teenagers feel sleepy much later in the evening, which means they need a later bedtime. However, in most cases, except in California, high school students still have to get up relatively early for school.

“This leads to sleep-deprived teenagers having extreme difficulty waking up and then feeling drowsy or falling asleep in class,” says Dr. Bhargava. “This can also contribute to drowsiness while driving, an additional complication for the teenage novice driver.”

So how much sleep does your child need? That depends on his age. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends the following:

  • Ages 3-5: 10-13 hours of sleep (including naps)
  • Ages 6-10: 9-12 hours of sleep
  • Ages 13-18: 8-10 hours of sleep

Tips for better sleep

Setting a bedtime schedule, having a consistent wake-up time, and turning off screens can all contribute to a better night’s sleep. But what if your teenager tends to stay up late?

dr Bhargava recommends keeping phone and tablet charging stations outside of the bedroom. Research has shown that even the presence of a charger can reduce sleep duration by 20-30 minutes. Another is to make sure your teen is getting about 45 minutes of physical activity each day, ideally before 7pm

He also suggests that teenagers should avoid oversleeping on the weekends. Your teen may be inclined to make up for lost sleep, but is unlikely to be able to fully pay off their sleep debt. Research has shown that it can take up to four days to recover from an hour of sleep deficit and up to nine days to eliminate it. While naps can help with short-term recovery, they can also cause a delay in falling asleep at night, setting in motion a cycle of reduced sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, and increased sleep deprivation.

“Realistic beliefs about the appropriate bedtime and sleep duration are important for the high school student to avoid insomnia and make falling asleep a stressful experience,” says Dr. Bhargava. “Sleep must be viewed as part of a healthy life, and good sleep habits can be both taught and learned.”

If your child continues to have trouble sleeping, discuss them with your child’s doctor or a sleep medicine specialist.

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