The average American Teenager gets only seven hours of sleep per night, cramming it between school, homework, sports, and work, while research suggests they need closer to nine hours a night. Unfortunately, biology is working against them. According to Mary Carskadon, a Member of the Centre for Sleep Research at Brown University, as children get older, they are naturally more inclined to want to stay up later and sleep in longer. And, with school start times getting earlier, there is little time for teenagers to recover.
A recent poll by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital of 2,000 parents across varied ethnic backgrounds found that 1 in 6 parents say their teenager has frequent sleep problems - “trouble falling or staying asleep 3 or more nights a week.” More than half of the parent responders blamed their children’s late-night activities on electronic devices, while another 43 percent think that irregular school and extracurricular schedules are at fault.
Here are 5 tips from Mary Carskadon’s research on how to get teens to better manage their sleeping habits:
- Put away electronics: Phone use is not only stimulating for the brain, but the “blue light” that most screens emit can interfere with your body’s internal clock. Do whatever possible to make sleep hours completely electronics free.
- Create and follow a regular bedtime routine: Go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day, even on weekends and holidays. This regimen will get your body used to a regular sleeping pattern, and evidence shows that you can’t really make up for lost sleep on the weekend anyway.
- Avoid napping: A 20-minute “power nap” can be a refreshing pick-me-up, but any sleep session longer than that in the afternoon can be detrimental later that night. Kids who struggle the most at night are usually the ones falling asleep in class or napping right after school.
- Limit caffeine: A lot of teens reach for a Red Bull or make a Starbucks run late in the day to power through the rest of the evening, but this only makes falling asleep even more difficult. In the Mott poll, 54 percent of parents said they limit caffeine late in the day, but Carskadon suggests to push the caffeine consumption back to the mid-morning or to do away with it altogether.
- Improve time management: Teaching proper time management can help teens balance their hectic schedules. If there isn’t a two-hour window to do homework, try breaking up assignments into smaller chunks and work on them little by little during shorter breaks throughout the day. This will help you avoid late night cramming.
Parents and school staff can play a big role in helping teens manage their daily activities to improve their sleep habits. Establishing a healthy sleep routine will give them added energy for the day and improve their performance at school and extracurricular activities.