A November 2019 study in the journal ‘Sleep’ found that most teens do not get the amount of sleep recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) on a regular basis. They recommend 8–10 hours of sleep each night for teenagers 13 to 18 years old. This is not too different from the 9 to 12 hours recommended for kids 6–12 years old. Sleep deprivation can have serious impacts on your child’s quality of life, physical health and mental health. However, the good news is that even though kids are more autonomous during adolescence, the study found that parents can influence their teens to make healthy improvements to their sleep habits.
Why the Struggle for Adolescent Sleep
During puberty, hormone changes affect your child’s internal sleep clock, often referred to as the circadian rhythm, that determines when your child feels sleepy and when he wakes up. This change moves the time when your child starts to feel sleepy to an hour or two later in the evening and shifts his wake-up time up to two hours later in the morning. This adjustment means that even if your child is in bed on time, he may not be able to fall asleep right away.
As kids enter middle school and high school, the time each evening taken up by homework and after school activities may make it hard to go to bed on time. Also, it can be challenging for teens to ‘disconnect’ themselves from social media and their computer in the evening, and the exposure to the light from screens can inhibit the production of the sleep hormones. Consuming caffeine and feeling stressed may also make it hard for your teen to fall asleep.
What you can do to help your child sleep better:
- Evaluate your child’s schedule to see if he is over-committed and needs to adjust his schedule or if he just needs some guidance on managing his time better.
- Set your expectations for when bedtime should be and don’t let your child stay up hours past his bedtime on the weekend.
- Create a healthy sleep environment by using black-out shades to reduce light and keeping your child’s room free of TVs, computers and phones. The hour before his bedtime should be screen-free. Encourage him to read a book instead.
- Help your child settle in for the night by spending time each evening as a family. Give your child a chance to discuss any concerns with you before going to bed.
Sleep disorders can affect kids too
If your child rests well each night but still feels tired and sleep-deprived during the day, see your doctor to discuss potential sleep disorders such as:
Insomnia: Having trouble falling asleep on a long-term basis may be a symptom of an underlying condition or a side effect of medication.
Obstructive Sleep Apnea: This condition causes pauses in breathing during sleep and can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Symptoms include snoring and mouth breathing while sleeping.
Restless Leg Syndrome: This sleep disorder causes leg discomfort after going to bed.
Narcolepsy: This rare sleep disorder usually first appears during the teenage years or young adulthood. Someone with narcolepsy may have trouble staying awake during the day and experience interrupted sleep at night. (See WHAT IS: Narcolepsy)