Does Your Teen Need a Bedtime?

By Tara Weng,

It seems a rite of passage for teens to expect later curfews and bedtimes as they get older. Unfortunately less sleep at night might be just what teens don't need. According to a report published by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF) adolescents and young adults (ages 12-25) are a high-risk population for problem sleepiness. Problem sleepiness is identified in the report as a key contributor to injuries and deaths related to delayed response times at critical moments, such as while driving. So how much sleep does your teen need and what happens if they don't get it?

Related: Lack of Sleep Impacts Schoolwork

Dr. Sanford Auerbach, Director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Boston Medical Center in Boston, MA says the average teen will need anywhere from eight to nine hours of sleep a night and if they don't get it there are numerous side effects. "Sleep deprivation may contribute to problems of attention that may lead to learning problems. One may see an impact on mood and behavior. Judgment may be impaired," Auerbach outlines. He also agrees with the NSF's findings that reaction times can be affected by sleepiness, increasing the risk for accidents.

With the change of seasons upon us, lack of sleep in combination with lack of light can have a serious impact on your teen's mood. "In the most common form, patients will experience symptoms of depression during the winter months. Sleep need may also increase during these periods (an even bigger problem for teens in school)," Auerbach says. Beyond the occasional yawn or bad mood Auerbach cautions parents to look out for signs of a potential sleep disorder. Some of the more common symptoms include: changes in behavior or learning, the inability to relax or fall asleep and even in some cases hyperactivity. Dr. Auerbach says that parents should consult with their primary care physician if they notice these changes in their children.

Related: Can Bedtime Make Kids Smarter?

With all of the side effects associated with lack of sleep it seems important that parents find a way to settle down their teen at night. Easier said than done right? Auerbach believes it's not a mission impossible and offers both parents and their teens some helpful tips on how to settle down and stay asleep:

  • Establish a bed and wake-time and stick to it, coming as close as you can on the weekends
  • Make your room a sleep haven. Keep it cool, quiet and dark. If you need to, get eyeshades or blackout curtains. Let in bright light in the morning to signal your body to wake up
  • Don't eat, drink, or exercise within a few hours of your bedtime. Don't leave your homework for the last minute. Try to avoid the TV, computer and telephone in the hour before you go to bed
  • Try taking a bath or shower (this will leave you extra time in the morning), or reading a book

For parents getting your teen to bed at a reasonable hour might be a case of leading by example. Also, it might be helpful to have your child keep a sleep diary so they can chart their own behaviors based on the amount of sleep they get each night.

What do you think is the appropriate bedtime for teens-- 14, 15, 17? Do you see a difference when your child stays up too late?

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