Between school, peer pressure, sports, friends, and hormones, teens have a lot on their plates. On top of all that, research shows that many of them are constantly sleep deprived, which is bad news for their physical and mental health.
It may seem like your teen is wired to stay up late every night and, in fact, that's partially true. But you can still encourage a sleep routine that works with his daily schedule and make sure he's following a few simple rules for restful nights. Here's how to do it and why it really matters.
Why Teens Can't Sleep
If your teenager wants to stay up late, there may be a biological reason for it. Children's internal clocks, called circadian rhythms, shift slightly around the time they go through puberty, says Judith Owens, MD, MPH, director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children's Hospital. Their brains don't start making melatonin, a hormone that helps us fall asleep, until later in the evening.
On top of that, teens have a slower sleep drive than young children, which means they stay awake longer, even when they're sleep deprived. "It is harder for them to naturally fall asleep much before 11 at night," Owens says.
They also spend too much time with electronic devices like cell phones and tablets, says Cora Breuner, MD, chair of the Committee on Adolescence for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
At night, the light from these screens can interfere with the brain's melatonin production. Plus, activities like texting and playing video games keeps kids alert. "It's impossible for them to wind down when they have so much going on right at their fingertips," Breuner says.
But They Still Need Plenty of Sleep
Teenagers need at least 8 hours of sleep a night. "And some teens actually need 10 hours, especially if they're particularly busy and physically active throughout the day," Breuner says.
Unfortunately, most of them don’t get that much. In one survey, 75% of 12th graders said they got less than 8 hours of sleep a night -- and only 3% got 9 hours or more. That can be dangerous.