Teen sleep is an oxymoron in most houses. We all know teens need more sleep. That’s no secret, but the numbers are pretty staggering. A 2014 poll by the National Sleep Foundation found that more than half of parents said their 15-to-17-year-olds routinely get seven hours or fewer hours of sleep – even though the recommended amount is 8-and-a-half to 10 hours a night.
We might blame their busy schedules – and surely that’s a part of it – but science is playing a role here too. Their circadian rhythms make them want to be up later – and sleep later. “Teens are systematically sleep-deprived because of how society works against their natural clocks,” said sleep researcher Steven Lockley of Harvard Medical School. “Asking a teenager to get up at 7 a.m. is like asking me to get up at 4 a.m.”
That’s why the Academy of Pediatrics supports pushing back school start times for older kids, particularly teens. But unfortunately, even with all the supporting evidence, there’s not much you can do about your school’s starting time. We can hope that someday, they will take this research into account, but later start times will take a sea change given the realities of buses, afterschool activities and the like.
So if you can’t change your child’s wakeup time, you have to do what you can to influence their bedtime. Here are six ways to help them get the zzzzzs they need.
- Take a hard look at your child’ schedule. Their bedtime is largely dependent on how much time they have after school for their activities, homework and hopefully some chill time. Working with your teen to identify activities they can jettison, or pockets of time they could reclaim, can free up their schedule to allow them to complete their homework earlier.
- Work with them on their study habits. There’s a huge difference between studying hard and studying well. The goal is to do the best job they can, in the least amount of time. While you don’t want them to rush through their homework, you also don’t want them to belabor their tasks. Sometimes kids spend more time than they should if they don’t understand something. If you find your child is spinning in circles over an assignment, suggest they table it to talk over with their teacher or see if they would benefit from a tutor helping them puzzle through the more challenging assignments.
- Teach them to recognize procrastination. We all know this beast—when the task at hand is unpleasant or difficult, it can be tempting to do anything else. That’s when kids turn to everyone’s favorite time waster—endlessly surfing the web or chatting on social media. Help your kids establish good media habits by ensuring they turn off the blings and rings that are so endlessly distracting, and encourage them to limit their Internet surfing to the data that will help them finish their report
- Help them establish a wind-down ritual. Remember the “bath, book and bed” sequence from their childhood? Well, there’s a reason it worked so well in zonking them out. Having a set routine gives your body the cues it needs to know that now is bedtime. Your child might want to take a shower, pack their supplies for the next day and then read quietly in bed for a few minutes to wind down.
- Turn off the glowing lights. A recent study found that the blue light emitting from our devices can interfere with sleep. But the National Sleep Foundation’s study found that 68 percent of the teens kept an electronic device on all night. Based on what parents reported, sleep quality was better among children age 6 to 17 who always turned their devices off: 45% of them were described as having excellent sleep quality vs. 25% of those who sometimes left devices on. Creating a family ritual of leaving devices downstairs in a central “charging area” ensures they won’t be lured into using their phones when they’re supposed to be sleeping.
- Let them sleep in on the weekends, but not too much. The body can get completely out of whack when it goes from very little sleep to endless sleep. Teens who sleep until noon wake up groggy and often out of sorts. Let them sleep in a little (don’t we all love that!), but try to avoid letting them sleep the day away. Furthermore, try to keep their bedtime somewhat similar on the weekends as well. It can be hard to get them into bed too early, but they also don’t need to be up until 2 a.m. binge gaming or TV watching.
Inadequate sleep can contribute to health issues such as obesity, diabetes, mood changes and behavior problems. As hard as it can be to enforce bedtime—with not only their schedule, but science, working against us—you’ll be giving your teen a head start on one of their most important health habits!