Teens aren’t known for being particularly communicative with their parents when it comes to things like their general health or, well, anything at all. As such, you might know that your kid eats too much junk food (once the video games come out, the Doritos disappear fast), but feel left in the dark when it comes to whether or not they’re getting enough quality sleep. So how much sleep do teenagers need? We spoke to Dr. Shelby Harris, Director of Sleep Health at Sleepopolis to find out more. (Spoiler alert: your teen probably isn’t getting enough.) Here’s what you need to know.
How Much Sleep Do Teenagers Need? We Asked a Sleep Expert
How Much Sleep Do Teenagers Really Need?
It turns out that your teen does indeed need more sleep than you—namely because “teenagers are still growing, and thus require the extra sleep to promote healthy development and growth,” says Dr. Harris. So how much shuteye do they need exactly? The expert tells us that teens should get about 9.5 hours of sleep a night. For many reasons, though, a lot of teens aren’t hitting that mark—and, needless to say, that’s bad news.
Is There Such a Thing As Too Much Sleep for a Teen?
You can’t get your teen to roll out of bed before noon on the weekends and every weekday involves an evening nap. Are they just using sleep as an excuse to avoid family time, or what gives? According to Dr. Harris, “the body’s natural clock (circadian rhythm) shifts to a later sleep and wake time during the early teenage years, and this natural change in their circadian rhythm means that teens are more likely to go to bed later in the evening and wake up later in the day.” In other words, your kid’s 1 a.m. bedtime and 10 a.m. wakeup time may be annoying for your weekend plans but is totally normal. However, it’s worth noting that if your teen is routinely getting more than 10 hours of sleep on the weekend and/or taking long or frequent naps, it’s likely a sign that they are trying to catch up on lost sleep, which is often the result of “early school start times, sports, after school activities, friends, and work causing teens to miss out on quality sleep during the week,” explains Dr. Harris.
That said, Dr. Harris emphasizes that parents should seek help from a sleep specialist if they notice that their teen’s sleep habits are interfering with their ability to get to activities on time (or at all), causing their personal care habits to slip, or making it difficult for them to get to bed at a reasonable hour on Sunday (or any other) night and readjust to the school schedule. Roger that.
How to Help Your Teen Get the Sleep They Need
In a perfect world, teens will consistently get 9.5 hours of sleep per night, and not experience any need to play catch-up on the weekend. Creating the conditions for that, however, is easier said than done. Here are a few things the expert says you can do to help.
1. Impose screen time restrictions
Getting a teen to surrender their smartphone is no small feat, but the fact is that any kind of screen time (even mindless scrolling) lights up the brain like a Christmas tree—and that’s the last thing anyone needs right before bed. As such, Dr. Harris recommends that parents do their best to impose a rule that all screens go off 30 minutes before bed. (Ideally an hour, but good luck with that.) Per the expert, the best way to get teens on board is by modeling the behavior yourself, because “if you have your phone in bed at night, it’s going to be much harder to get your teen to stop using tech in their rooms.” In addition to leading by example, Dr. Harris says it can also be helpful to set up a charging station in some central location of your home, so everyone can plug in their devices in another room overnight.
3. Adjust naps, as needed
In general, Dr. Harris says that it’s perfectly OK for teens to take naps when they need or want to. That said, nap habits that interfere with a teen’s ability to fall asleep at a reasonable hour need to be addressed by either shortening the nap (hello, parent alarm clock) or encouraging your teen to take it as soon as they get home from school and no later.
3. Set a smart schedule
All those extracurriculars might look good on a college application, but if your teen’s after school schedule is so jam-packed with activities that there’s no room for downtime, it might cause sleep issues. Indeed, Dr. Harris stresses the importance of wind-down time before bed, adding that “working on time management so that schoolwork gets done earlier in the day and trying not to over-schedule” can go a long way towards promoting healthy sleep habits.
4. Put the kibosh on caffeinated beverages
Forbidding your Starbucks-obsessed teen from drinking her favorite caramel Frappuccino every day would make you the buzzkill of the century (literally), but you can still lay down some limits regarding how much caffeine your teen consumes and when. Energy drinks and certain sodas are major culprits here, too, but really any hidden caffeine source can “make it harder to fall asleep and mask significant sleep issues,” says Dr. Harris. So if your teen wants a caffeinated milkshake in the morning or immediately after school, fine…but you might want to make it a rule that no caffeinated stuff gets consumed in the late afternoon or evening (i.e., no Red Bull-fueled study groups and water with dinner instead of Coke).