Is your teen sleep deprived? + How to address it

Student laying her head on the table, she was tired of working at a computer.

It’s noon on a weekend, and your teen is still sleeping. With more than 80 percent of Tennessee teens getting less than the recommended amount of sleep per night, it’s not surprising that your teen is using the weekend to try to catch up on lost sleep.

“It may be tempting to dismiss sleep deprivation, but sleep is important for teens,” says Dr. Ian Bushell, a medical director with BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee. “Sleep-deprived teens have a higher incidence of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.”

How much sleep does a child need?

Dr. Bushell: It’s not always easy for teens to get a good night’s sleep. They experience a shift in their circadian rhythms  that makes it difficult for them to fall asleep before about 11 p.m. Then they have to get up early for school.

The result: sleep deprivation. So your child almost certainly needs more sleep than they’re getting.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 58% of middle school students don’t get enough sleep on school nights. The problem gets worse as they get older: almost 73% of high school students don’t get enough sleep on school nights.

How much sleep do they need? The American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) recommends the following:

  • Children (ages 6-12): 9-12 hours of sleep per night
  • Teenagers (ages 13-18): 8-10 hours of sleep per night

The benefits of a good night’s sleep

Dr. Bushell: It may be hard to convince your teen to go to try to go to bed earlier, but don’t give up. Well-rested teens are more likely to be healthy and energetic—and have a more positive attitude. They’re also less likely to get distracted in school and more likely to perform better on the athletic field.

In addition to higher rates of anxiety and depression, the risks associated with not getting enough sleep include:

  • Grades that suffer
  • Higher incidence of traffic accidents (among teens who drive)
  • A weaker immune system
  • Slower healing and muscle recovery
  • Impairment of memory formation

The secret to getting your child on board with getting more sleep? Know what resonates with your teen. Focus on the benefits that mean the most to them as your reasons to work on improving sleep.

For some kids, the most convincing reason is that sleeping more will help them study more effectively. Explain that their brain needs sleep to organize the information they’ve consumed. If they don’t sleep enough, the information will be harder to recall when taking a test.

Kids in sports could be more motivated by the prospect of improving performance. Explain that a good night’s sleep will help them build muscle, reduce inflammation and heal from injuries.

WellTuned: 3 things you need to know to get better sleep

Strategies to combat sleep deprivation

Dr. Bushell: Catching up on lost sleep on the weekend is okay on occasion, but it’s better to have a regular sleep pattern every day. Here are a few other ways that you can help your child get the sleep they need:

  • Make sure they get some exercise every day, since physical activity can help them sleep better.
  • Set a firm bedtime—or at least give your child a time by which they need to turn off the lights. Bedtimes should also apply to weekends.
  • Put electronic devices away an hour before bedtime.
  • Eliminate caffeinated drinks after school, since caffeine can make it harder for them to fall (and stay) asleep.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine to help them wind down and sleep more soundly
  • Find a way to expose them to early morning sunshine when they wake up, since sunlight can help regulate their body’s biological clock.
  • Use a white noise machine to drown out any noise that might interrupt their sleep.

Also, try encouraging naps. A 30 or 45-minute afternoon nap is a better solution than sleeping in.

“Keep talking to your teen about the importance of getting a good night’s rest,” says Dr. Bushell. “It may take some time to convince them, but it’s definitely worthwhile.”

More from Dr. Ian Bushell on WellTuned.

Jennifer Larson

Jennifer Larson is Nashville-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years of experience. She specializes in health care and family issues.

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