Like most of his friends, Zach Oreszko is always tired. After waking up at 6 a.m., the 14-year-old trudges through a day of high school in suburban Atlanta and then heads to more than 3 hours of football practice. He comes home to shower and eat. Then he settles in for at least 3 hours of homework. On a good night, he's in bed by 11 p.m. -- getting 7 hours of sleep. On a bad night, he's lucky to get 6 hours.
"He's grouchy, short tempered, and has a harder time focusing," says Zach's mom, Susanne. "He can barely complete sentences. He just mumbles."
Experts say teenagers need at least 8 1/2 hours of sleep. Some say they need 9 or more. But how's that even possible?
Why Being Tired Is a Problem
Zach’s not alone. More than 90% of teens said they get fewer than 9 hours of sleep on most school nights, according to one survey. More than half of those say it affected their grades, friendships, and mood.
Experts say teens and parents are right -- too little sleep can cause problems with grades, mood, and memory. That’s not all. It can also lead to weight issues, heart disease, and diabetes -- even in the teen years.
"This generation of teenagers is probably the most sleep-deprived that the world has ever seen, and we don't know what the repercussions will be," says pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. "It's not just a matter of what happens today or tomorrow, but 10, 20, 30 years down the line. What are we doing to our kids by not really enforcing sleep?"
Why Teens Stay Up Late
From the time they're babies, it's a struggle to get kids to go to bed. For teenagers, you can partially blame biology. A teen's body clock resets at puberty. They'll be most alert in the evenings and not able to fall asleep until at least 10 p.m.
To deal with this natural shift, many sleep experts have pushed for later high school start times -- like 8:30 or 9 a.m. -- so these natural night owls can get enough sleep. Some schools that shifted to start later in the morning have found that students do better academically and are much more alert in class. But if your child's school doesn't start later, what can you do?
How Teens Can Catch Up on Sleep
Consider a nap. Make it between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., and don't let it last more than 20 or 30 minutes. If your teen sleeps longer, they'll get into a deep sleep and may wake up even groggier.
Sleep in (a little) on weekends. Some experts say just let your teen sleep in 1 hour past their school-day wakeup time. The theory? If you let teens sleep too late, you're shifting their body clocks to be set later. It will make it even harder for them to get up on Monday morning. Others say letting them sleep until 9 a.m. is OK.