Why are adolescents not getting enough sleep?

During adolescence, circadian rhythms are delayed, making it extremely difficult for teens to fall asleep prior to 11 p.m. and wake up prior to 8 a.m. Although a teenager's sleep quality can be made worse by excessive academic/extra-curricular demands, poor sleep hygiene, or misuse of technology at bed-time, it is largely driven by a universal delay in the body’s sleep clock during adolescence. Early school hours play a significant role as they force teens to wake up before they have achieved the minimum amount of sleep required for optimum health and performance.

What are the effects of insufficient sleep?

  • Health: increases in depressed mood, anxiety, suicidal ideation, weight gain, obesity, substance use and abuse as well as decreased emotional regulation
  • Safety: increases in motor vehicle accidents, athletic injuries, risk-taking behaviors and physical fights/bullying
  • Performance: decreased concentration, problem-solving ability and academic performance, along with poorer cognitive efficiency and memory

How much sleep does my child need?

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommend the following ranges:

  • 10-13 hours for children 3 to 5 years of age
  • 9-12 hours for children 6 to 12 years of age
  • 8-10 hours for teenagers 13 to 18 years of age

Why consider changing school hours?

It is well established that sleep deprivation is known to compromise teenagers’ health, safety, and performance. ​The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and American Medical Association recognize the disconnect between school start times and most school schedules and recommend a high school start time of ​8:30 a.m. or later.

Pushing start times back helps to enable students to reach two critical sleep goals:

1.  Quantity: Achieve the adequate amount of sleep that they need

2.  Quality: To sleep during a time that is more in sync with their circadian rhythm. 

Is there evidence that delaying school start times will be associated with positive outcomes?

Yes. School start times of 8:30 a.m. or later are associated with:

  • Increased sleep duration
  • Less sleepiness
  • Improved attendance
  • Less tardiness
  • Less falling asleep in class
  • Fewer depressive symptoms
  • Decreased health center visits
  • Fewer motor vehicle crashes
  • Though data is limited, some evidence of increase in GPAs and SATs (with no adverse impact on academics)

Shouldn’t teens just go to bed earlier?

Teens natural biology has them falling asleep at 11 p.m. or later, making it extremely difficult to fall asleep earlier. Early alarms wake students during REM, a critical stage of sleep that benefits learning and memory. Waking teens at 6 a.m. is equivalent to waking an adult at 4 a.m., making teens in a permanent state of jet lag.

Won’t teens stay up later if the start time is pushed back?

Contrary to some beliefs and expectations, there is evidence that students will obtain more sleep when school start time is shifted later. Research shows that bedtimes remain stable and students are able to sleep later in the morning, which increases their quality and quantity of sleep. 

What can parents do to improve teens’ sleep?

  • Set electronic curfews
  • Limit substances, such as caffeine, which can interfere with adequate sleep quality and quantity
  • Help your child keep a consistent sleep-wake cycle routine on weekends 
  • Evaluate and potentially modify excessive academic and extra-curricular demands
  • Make sleep a priority health behavior

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