"Teenagers brains aren't fully developed yet, and they already might not be making the smartest choices when it comes to high-risk behaviors," Breuner says. "When you add fatigue on top of that, it gets worse." For example, they may be more likely to run red lights while driving or gulp down energy drinks to stay awake.
Sleep-deprived teens have a higher risk for depression and mood swings, and they can have trouble focusing in school. They can also mistake sleepiness for hunger, which could cause them to overeat or choose fatty, sugary foods over healthy ones.
What You Can Do
Even though your teen is becoming an independent adult, you should still monitor his or her sleep schedule, Owens says. "Parents can set limits on their child's activities and be a good role model in terms of making sleep a priority," she says. A few things you can try:
- Collect devices at night. Keep a basket in a common area of your home where all family members place their smartphones, tablets, and the like at 9:30 every night. "Kids might push back and say they need to communicate with their friends, but parents need to put their foot down and say 'No'," Breuner says. If you set a good example by also doing this with your own phone, she says, your kids may be less likely to complain.
- Don't let sleep slide. If your teens are involved in sports, work, and school projects, it can seem like there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done. But staying up late to finish homework can do more harm than good, Owens says. Instead, teach your kids time management skills so they can get everything done during the day. If they're still over-scheduled, it might be time to think about dropping an activity or to talk with their teachers about the problem.
- Work backward from school's start time. Many school districts around the country are beginning to shift their start times later, thanks to a 2014 recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics. But no matter when your teen's day starts, it's important to plan for enough sleep. "If they have to be up at 5:30 to catch the 6:00 bus, they should probably be in bed right at 9:30," Breuner says. "That means you start getting ready -- make sure homework's done, dinner's eaten, clothes are laid out for the next day -- starting at least an hour before that."
- Cut their caffeine. Soda is not the only source of caffeine in teens' diets today. They also drink more energy drinks and coffee than ever before. "And parents don't realize how much caffeine is in things like green tea or some sports drinks," Breuner says. Teens should have enough energy to get through the day without relying on caffeine. If they don't, they need more sleep, not an artificial buzz.