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The natural sleep cycle of a teenager often doesn’t align with the schedule they are forced to keep, resulting in a lack of sleep that can negatively impact their health. Getty Images
  • Research has found that 73 percent of high school students regularly do not get a healthy amount of sleep.
  • The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends pre-teens need 9 to 12 hours and teens should be getting 8 to 10 hours of sleep per night.
  • Sleep deprivation can impact a teen’s well-being in a number of ways including increased moodiness, drowsiness while driving, and depression-like symptoms.

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM), pre-teens need between 9 and 12 hours of sleep a night, and teenagers should be getting between 8 and 10 hours of sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) endorses these recommendations.

However, a 2018 study revealed that 73 percent of high school students are failing to meet that sleep marker.

And the consequences for not getting enough sleep can be huge.

Dr. Cora Breuner is an AAP spokesperson and member of the division of adolescent medicine at Seattle Children’s hospital. She said one contributing factor to this problem is that teenagers are watching their parents, and they’re learning from the sleep patterns they model.

For this reason, Breuner suggests parents apply the same rules to themselves as their teens when it comes to sleep habits. This includes shutting off all devices in the home no later than 10:00 p.m.

But it’s important to note that teens also have slightly different sleep cycles than adults.

Dr. Kasey Nichols, NMD, from Tempe, Arizona, says that “teen’s bodies and minds change in drastic ways during puberty, so it should come as no surprise that the timing of their sleep also varies.”

What this means is that when your teen is begging to stay up late, or is dragging to get up in the mornings, they aren’t being intentionally defiant; they’re just following their natural sleep cycle.

“During puberty, hormones are changing dramatically and teens undergo a delayed phase change in sleep in which their body tells them to stay up later at night and wake up later in the morning,” Nichols explained.

This difference in sleep cycles often becomes an issue during the teen years, and could be a contributing factor to why so many teens aren’t getting the sleep they need.

Carrie Bruno is a registered nurse and founder of The Mama Coach, an organization that provides international sleep coaching. She manages a team of 35 nurses across Canada and the United States, working with families to assist with childhood sleep issues from infancy through the teenage years.

Bruno says it is entirely too common for teens to get less sleep than they actually need.

She concedes this is understandable, given what we know about teen sleep cycles, but said that adults don’t recognize their changing needs.

“If as a society we could respect their circadian rhythm, it likely would be less of a struggle. The challenge is that teenagers are often required to keep a schedule that does not match their internal clock,” she explained.

School schedules often contribute to teenagers having to get up earlier than their bodies naturally want them to.

However, Bruno explained sending teens to bed earlier isn’t as effective as some parents might hope, because “they will likely struggle to fall asleep.”

Breuner noted additional barriers to sleep for teens can include:

  • devices
  • homework
  • caffeine
  • anxiety

Nichols agreed, drawing from his own personal experience.

“I watch my niece constantly checking her social media posts well into the night and often wonder about the psychological pressure she must continually feel to check her social media, fit in, feel pretty, and conform to what the media portrays as society’s expectations,” he said.

It’s a lot, and the pressure to achieve only further complicates a teen’s ability to get the sleep they need to remain healthy.

So with so many teenagers struggling to get the recommended amount of sleep each night, parents may be left wondering what the consequences of this lack of sleep truly are.

After all, if not getting enough sleep is just synonymous with being a teenager, is it really that big a deal?

The answer is yes, it’s a very big deal.

“Teens can be moody even when they aren’t sleep deprived,” explains Bruno. “They are having huge hormonal shifts which can feel hard to manage and are normal.”

Add sleep deprivation to that mix, she says, and you have a teenager who can suddenly experience:

  • increased moodiness
  • trouble staying awake in school
  • drowsiness while driving
  • disinterest in activities that used to interest them
  • depression-like symptoms

In extreme cases, Breuner said this could increase the risk of car accidents, failing grades, and thoughts of self-harm.

So how can parents tell if their teens are getting enough sleep?

Bruno said it’s pretty simple. “If your teen seems ‘checked out,’ disinterested, drowsy and/or moody, they may not be getting enough sleep.”

She added that if they’re still awake when you head to bed, that’s a red flag as well.

There are steps parents can take to ensure their kids get the sleep they need.

According to Nichols, it starts with “taking an active role in the teen’s life and emphasizing the importance of adequate amounts of sleep.”

Breuner suggested ways this can be accomplished can include:

  • shutting off devices by 10pm
  • limiting caffeine
  • modeling good sleep hygiene behavior
  • assuring efficient homework practices

Bruno added that parents should also monitor sleep-ins.

“Teens need a chance to ‘catch up’ on sleep,” she explained, “ but don’t let it be on Sunday mornings when they need to return to school Monday morning.”

Instead, she advised that teens shouldn’t sleep past a.m. on Sundays to help ease them back into their regular early weekday schedule.

However, she said allowing kids to sleep in as late as 10 a.m. on Saturdays is a better approach, as this would be their normal sleep schedule.

She also warned that parents shouldn’t let teens sleep any later than 10 a.m., as that can negatively impact their circadian rhythms.

It’s important to have a discussion about what those wake-up times will be, she explained.

Instead of just turning on the vacuum in your teen’s room at 11 a.m., allow them to be part of the decision-making process, and come together to decide what works best for your family and your teen.

While you’re having that discussion, Nichols also suggested talking to your teenager about priorities, especially if they are involved in so many extracurriculars that they’re struggling to find time to do their homework and still get the sleep they need.

“This is an excellent opportunity to sit your child down and figure out what is important to them and what activities need to be eliminated, so they have time to do their homework earlier,” he said.