When children are little, the optimal amount of sleep is 8 hours per night. Any less than this and they wake up grumpy, have trouble focusing at school and are sleepy throughout the day when they should be the most active.
Once children grow into teenagers, their hormone levels spike and their growth is spurred. Not only are their bodies starting to develop more muscle mass and putting on height and weight, their brains are also going through developmental changes. This growth can come on suddenly, and it doesn’t stop until their bodies and brains reach their adult height, weight and brain development. All this physical processing is exhausting! Not only does all this growing require tons of energy, it is also vital that a growing teen get plenty of rest, for it is during sleep that cells regenerate and the body repairs itself. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 9-10 hours minimum of sleep for teenagers on school nights.
Going to Bed on Time Helps Teens Function Better
Designing a reasonable bedtime routine will give your teen enough time to sleep before they have to get up for school the next day. What time they should go to bed depends largely on how early they need to be up and at school the next day. If school starts at 8:30 am, rising at 7:30 am allows an hour for breakfast and getting ready for school. To get the recommended 10 hours of quality sleep means teens need to get to bed (and to sleep) by 9:30 pm the night before. This can be challenging for teens with a lot of homework and/or sports that keep them up later than 9:30 pm on a regular basis.
American Association of Pediatrics’ New Policy
An AAP study showed that 87% of middle and high school students do not get the minimum amount of rest each night and as a result suffer from sleep deprivation. As a result of this study, the AAP got behind a movement to make school start times later in the morning to allow teens ample time to get in their 10 hours of sleep a night. The resulting policy was published in Pediatrics in September 2014, titled “School Start Times for Adolescents.” It is the aim of this mandate to increase the sleeping average of teens in middle and high school grades.
Avoid the Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Because of the natural tendency of teens to be awake later than 11 pm, it is extremely difficult to get in 10 hours of sleep before having to wake up and be in school as early as 7:30 am the next day. This leads to sleep deprivation, which in turn causes an increase in obesity, depression, failing grades at school as well as an increase in automobile accidents and a lesser quality of life. Many studies on sleep deprivation have shown that the average adolescent in the U.S. today is pathologically sleepy and chronically sleep deprived. A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation confirmed that 59% of middle school students and a whopping 87% of high school students were getting far less than the minimum 10 hours of sleep per night. This data is what prompted the “School Start Times for Adolescents” policy which mandates later start times for classes in these age groups. According to Pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, lead author of the policy, chronic sleep deprivation in our youth population is one of the most common – and easily remedied – health issues in the American population today.
Additional Reasons Teens Don’t Sleep Enough
After-school jobs, homework, extracurricular activities such as sports and use of technology are among the reasons for staying up late on weekends. Taking naps, sleeping more on the weekends and consuming caffeine are temporary solutions to chronic sleepiness but according to the AAP these are not an adequate substitute for sufficient and regular sleep.
Teens in the U.S. are not getting enough good, quality sleep and it is affecting their performance at school, on standardized tests and college entry exams, to name a few. Parents can enforce earlier bed times by limiting extracurricular activities and cutoff times related to technology and media, but according to the experts, later start times for morning classes at school will make the most impact. Later start times combined with earlier bed times will allow teens to have ample time to dedicate the adequate amounts of sleep per night on weeknights. It is for the sake of our teens’ health that they do.
Owens, Judith MD. (2014). “School Start Times for Adolescents” in The Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2014/08/19/peds.2014-1697. Internet. Retrieved 26 November 2014
AAP. (2014). “Let Them Sleep” in the AAP Press Room. http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/Let-Them-Sleep-AAP-Recommends-Delaying-Start-Times-of-Middle-and-High-Schools-to-Combat-Teen-Sleep-Deprivation.aspx. Internet. Retrieved 26 November 2014.