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How much sleep for teens?

Updated on May 7, 2014

A look at teenagers and sleep

It's 11 p.m.; do you know where your teen is? Asleep, I hope. But with homework, activities, friends & media all competing for attention, what are the chances? The truth is, few parents, let alone students, know how much sleep teens really need. Many aren't getting nearly enough sleep, which can have serious consequences -- even long-term -- for both physical and mental health, as well as learning and achievement. Read on for a full discussion of teen sleep: how sleep affects teens' health and safety, why so many get so little, and how they can get more sleep.

(photo: husin.sani via photopin cc ~ cropped for shape)

How much sleep do teens need?

Expert guidelines range from 8 to 10 hours, but 9 hours per night seems to be most frequently recommended. Sound like a lot? Here's the thing: While teens are no longer little kids, they also are not adults. No matter how sophisticated or independent some adolescents may seem, their minds & bodies are still growing, and they need -- doctors say -- at least an hour more sleep per night than most adults do.

Read more:

"Teens and Sleep" (National Sleep Foundation)

"How Much Sleep Do Children Need?"; "How Much Sleep Do You Need?"(WebMD)

"The Finals Stretch" (Lake Forest Hospital)

"Teens & School Start Times" (American Academy of Sleep Medicine)

Parent poll

On average, how much sleep does your teen get on school nights?

See results

Teen poll

On average, how much sleep do you get on school nights?

See results

Teen and adult sleep

needs are not the same.

What are the risks of too little sleep for teens?

More sick days

Sleep is when our immune systems kick into high gear. Chronic inadequate sleep makes teens, like all of us, vulnerable to more colds and viruses, including flu strains that can complicate and become dangerous. Plus, the more teens get sick and the longer they stay sick, the more schoolwork they have to make up, creating a cycle of stress and fatigue.

Read more: "Lack of Sleep Affects Your Immune System"

Cognitive impairment and poor learning

Many studies have shown we don't think, learn, and remember as well without enough sleep. Burning the midnight oil can easily backfire through poorer performance the next day on school tasks, including high-stakes tests. For chronic undersleepers, the cumulative cognitive impact may even become permanent.

Read more: "Snooze or Lose"

Obesity

Longer sleeps correlate with healthier weight, studies have shown -- possibly because the hormones that regulate appetite are produced while we sleep. In the teen years, this appears to be especially important for boys.

Read more: "Lack of Sleep in Teen Boys Linked to Obesity"

Mood problems and depression

A recent study revealed that teens who hit the hay before 10 p.m. are significantly less likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts.

Read more: "Study Links Teen Depression to Bedtimes"

Safety risks

"Drowsy driving" is a rather quaint term for the truly deadly phenomenon of drivers falling asleep, or nearly asleep, at the wheel. It's as bad as driving drunk, experts say, if not worse. While few parents would knowingly let their teens drive drunk, many watch their sleep-deprived son or daughter take the wheel every day, with no concern for their safety or that of people they'll meet on the road.

Read more: "Teens Can't Cheat Sleep"

Why don't teens sleep enough?

A few obstacles conspire against healthy sleep during adolescence:

Hormonal shifts at this age affect circadian rhythms, so teens may not feel sleepy until later at night. Unfortunately, their inner clocks are still set to ZZZZ when it's time to wake up for school. Some schools have listened to Mother Nature and moved high school schedules an hour or more later, but the approach hasn't caught on yet, so the vast majority of teens are on a schedule that clashes with their natural sleep/wake cycles.

Homework can be relentless in the teen years, forcing kids to choose between their health and their grades.

Sports, arts, service, and other extracurricular activities can be time consuming. Overscheduled teens, whether they're following true passions or building a college-admissions resume, may get home late on a regular basis.

Electronics are addictive, from surfing, texting & Facebook to videogames & reality TV. Even adults struggle with this, so of course teens find it hard to unplug. E-stimulation can cause insomnia, stretch the homework process out longer when combined with studying, or simply push bedtime way too late when teens can't say no to that "last" text/post/show/game.

Parent poll

What do you think is the TOP sleep obstacle for your teen?

See results

Teen poll

What is your TOP sleep obstacle?

See results

How can teens get more sleep?

Move more. At any age, regular exercise promotes healthy sleep. Teen athletes probably get enough exercise, at least in season, but others may find themselves much less active than in earlier childhood. Avoid exercising in the evening, which can be stimulating, but try to grab a walk, run, skate, bike ride or something physical every day.

Use light. Sun exposure early in the day can help sleep cycles, but that can be tough to come by for kids who go to school in the dark :( As unpleasant as it sounds, teens should turn on the bright lights as soon as possible after waking, to signal the mind and body it's time to get up. (Remember, their natural rhythms are saying nooooo....) At night, as soon as homework is done, turn the lights down low for the reverse affect: a signal to sleep.

Unplug. Turn off all the electronics at least a half-hour before bed. Not only are phones, computers, etc., world-class time suckers, but light from screens interferes with the production of melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone.

Decaffeinate. Avoid caffeine in general, but especially after 4 p.m.

Get regular. Set a regular bedtime and stick to it, even on weekends. Friday and Saturday nights can go later, but not much. Try to hit the hay within an hour of weekday bedtime. Treat sleep as the serious, everyday health need it is, not a luxury or a weekend treat.

Decompress. Squeeze in some downtime -- at least 15 minutes of reading for pleasure, listening to mellow music, or something else relaxing and non-electronic -- right before bed.

Scale back. If homework's the late-night culprit, first make sure it's not being compromised by e-multitasking. Then familiarize yourself with the research on homework and achievement. In a nutshell, up to 2 hours a night in high school is linked to higher achievement; beyond that, more homework actually correlates with lower test scores. Share this info with teachers, along with the info featured here on how much sleep teens need and what the health and safety risks are of not getting it. Ask them to help fit homework into a 2-hour window, even if it means (gasp) cutting down the volume of some assignments. If extracurriculars are more the issue, prioritize according to passion, and let go of anything not truly a "must." It's good practice for adulthood, when you learn you can't say yes to everything without going insane.

Comments? - Your thoughts on teenagers and sleep ...

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    • verymary profile image
      Author

      Mary 5 years ago from Chicago area

      @Rangoon House: you & she are so so smart to prioritize sleep. my son does the hibernation thing, too. it really does pay off in so many ways. I can't prove this, but I even think his no-zit skin is partly from (most of the time) decent sleep -- giving the hormones a chance to regulate themselves.

    • Rangoon House profile image

      AJ 5 years ago from Australia

      My teen daughter sleeps 9 - 9.5 hours on school nights and we all try very hard to ensure she gets two 12 hour nights on weekends. She needs every bit of this! School holidays are wonderful because she tries to get 10 -12 hours every night - a little like hibernation in preparation for the school terms!

    • GeekGirl1 profile image

      GeekGirl1 5 years ago

      Teens definitely need more sleep, it is not good to go without sleep