School, sports, homework, social life, texting…these are all things that get prioritized above your teenager’s sleep. There honestly is enough time in a day to accomplish all these goals, but barely. If your adolescent isn’t carefully managing his or her schedule, sleep will get put on the back burner.
The average teenager needs to sleep 9 hours and 15 minutes each night! If they have to get up for school at 6:30am, that means falling asleep at 9:15 the night before. For the vast majority of teenagers, this is definitely not happening. They sleep around 6 hours per night during the school week, and then sleep 12+ hours on the weekend.
Here’s the problem with getting inadequate sleep during the week. Your teen is more likely to have depression, irritability, struggle to remember things in school, be less efficient, have a weaker immune system, have more acne, might have weight gain, and lead to an unhealthy diet (people crave more sweets and fats when they’re tired, and they use more caffeine). These are not small issues.
Sleep needs to be one of the top priorities. As a parent it is important to force the issue when it comes to sleep. Insist your teenager gets at least 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep during school nights. This doesn’t mean they lay in bed looking at their phones, it means truly asleep. Do whatever you have to. Many adolescents don’t have the will-power to turn off their devices, or text their friends less often so their homework is finished sooner. It might be up to you to restrict their use.
I have worked with a huge number of teenagers who come into counseling for symptoms of depression. When we get them back on track with their sleep, their symptoms improve rapidly. They feel more energized, are nicer, do better in school, and are overall happier.
I know it’s really hard to tell your kids what to do at this point. However, some things need to be non-negotiable. Help your teenager be his or her best self by getting regular sleep. A great number of parents spend time and money getting their teens treatment for their skin, getting help for depression, getting a tutor in difficult subjects, etc. They forget to try the simplest thing first, which is more consistent sleep.
One challenge adolescents face when dealing with sleep is their circadian rhythm. Adults and small children naturally want to go to bed a little after the sun goes down and wake up a little after the sun comes up. Teenagers go through a phase where they want to stay up late and sleep in late. It’s not just that your child is being irresponsible with their schedule, it’s that their body naturally prefers this schedule. Most high schools though start very early in the morning, making the preferred sleep pattern impossible. As a result a lot of kids stay up really late and then fight with their alarm each morning. this added challenge makes it especially important for you and your teenager to work together to help them get enough sleep during the week.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT