Sylvan Learning partnered with Nancy Schatz Alton of Your Teen magazine for this post.
My teenage daughter follows her circadian rhythms during summer vacation. She stays awake late and sleeps in later than the school year allows. This is typical: Research shows that adolescents experience a delayed release of melatonin, the hormone secreted by our bodies that readies us for sleep. That’s why I dread her return to school; it’s time to guide her to go to bed early despite her physiological urge to stay up late.
It’s important to help our teens learn why sleep matters, says Emily Levitt, Vice President of Education at Sylvan Learning.
Experts agree that most teenagers need about nine hours of sleep. However, less than 10 percent of American adolescents get that amount, according to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. “Our kids aren’t just cranky when they’re tired; they experience an inability to focus and have trouble retaining what they are learning,” says Levitt.
Even more troubling, the American Academy of Pediatrics notes that a lack of sleep undermines teenage safety and elevates their risk for depression and obesity.
How to Adjust Bedtime Habits Before the School Year
Don’t wait until the night before school starts to help your teen figure out how to get those golden eight to nine hours of sleep. “If your teen needs to move back their sleep schedule, start gradually. Two weeks prior, suggest going to bed 10 minutes earlier than the night before,” says Levitt. Depending on the age of the teen, either work out a gradual earlier-to-bedtime schedule with them or ask them to create their own schedule for this bedtime shift.
The Child Mind Institute offers these suggestions for helping teens adjust their sleep habits:
- Stick to the same sleep schedule on weekends.
- Turn screens off an hour before bed.
- Try lux, a free app that automatically removes the stimulating blue light from your computer screen at night to help you sleep better.
- Don’t snack late or drink caffeine after dinner.
Parents can have their own sleep struggles, and it may help to acknowledge that. “Let them know when lack of sleep affects your work performance or mood, too,” says Levitt. Admitting you lost your cool thanks to staying up late to binge watch a TV series helps them admit their own mistakes.
For example, if your teen’s lack of sleep results in a less than par test grade or a tardy slip when the school year starts, take a few minutes to help your teen reflect on how sleep can be a factor.
“High school is a great time to figure out what works for them when it comes to sleep. Once they’re off to college, they need to figure it out themselves,” says Levitt.
My 17-year-old has learned through trial and error that getting eight hours of sleep is vital for her. After painful wakeups and a few late slips at school, she readily admits she needs to go to bed earlier than most of her friends. I’ll be sure to remind her of this fact when I ask her to adjust her bedtime a few weeks before school starts this fall.
Seattleite Nancy Schatz Alton is an author, teacher, poet and frequent contributor to Your Teen Magazine at YourTeenMag.com.