A Blog from Your Kaiser Permanente Pediatricians in Northern California

Teen sleeping

Our Kids Need More Sleep!

From the first night home with a new baby, until the morning they leave home for college, making sure your kids get enough sleep can feel like a challenge. First, we rock them, later we cajole and bribe them to sleep. All that work is worth our while, especially by the time they are in middle or high school.

You should hear the snooze-control electronic sounds in my house each morning! One boy can sleep through anything – except a kiss and shake from his mom. (I don’t know why he bothers to set an alarm.) The other son diligently sets his alarm every night, but relentlessly uses that snooze control every morning. And my daughter manages to stumble out of bed when the alarm first rings, but is bleary-eyed and mute each morning after hours of late night homework.

They’re all sleep deprived. Children age 5 to 10 need 10 to 11 hours of sleep each night and teens need 8 to 10 hours. Our kids aren’t coming close to that amount! A 2013 Gallup poll found that 50% of teens wake up feeling like they didn’t get enough sleep. They’re right.

Research is mounting that shows lack of sleep puts our kids at risk. Chronic sleep deprivation increases their risk of obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Compared to kids who do get enough sleep, children who are sleep deprived exercise less and eat worse. Kids who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to use cigarettes and alcohol and have unsafe sex. They‘re also more likely to feel aggressive, stressed, and hopeless, and contemplate suicide. They don’t learn as well, and may perform poorly in school. Teens who sleep only 6 to 7 hours each night are at a higher risk of having a car accident.

As they mature, our children experience biological changes that affect their ability to fall asleep at a reasonable hour and awaken early enough in the morning.

  • Teens release melatonin (the hormone that helps induce sleep) later than younger children.
  • During puberty there is a shift in the circadian rhythm or body clock. This makes the onset of sleep shift from 8 to 9 p.m. before puberty to 10 to 11 p.m. during puberty.

Putting these two biological changes together, most teens can’t fall asleep much before 11 p.m. and need to sleep until at least 8 a.m.

Other causes of teen sleep deprivation may include:

  • Large homework loads
  • Sports, extracurricular activities, and jobs
  • Use of caffeine and energy drinks
  • Overuse of electronics near bedtime
  • Snoring or obstructive sleep apnea
  • Emotional stress, worry, and bullying

The average adolescent in the United States is chronically sleep deprived and pathologically sleepy, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Sleep Foundation. How do we solve this problem? These organizations recommend that middle and high schools across the country change school start time to 8:30 AM or later.

Along with partnering with schools to make this change, there are other approaches parents can take:

  • Talk with your kids to find out what they think. Are they feeling well rested? Are they always tired? Would they like to try to make some changes? Show them what you’ve learned about how to sleep well and the risks of too little sleep.
  • Set a firm bedtime in an environment that helps induce sleep: cool, dark, and quiet.
  • Don’t allow caffeine after lunch.
  • Encourage them to get 30 to 60 minutes of exercise every day.
  • Assess your child’s stress level and emotional state. Reach out for counseling, if needed.
  • Set a media curfew – no electronics at least one hour before bed. We know that electronic light disturbs sleep patterns. Consider charging devices in the kitchen overnight.

And finally, it’s important that parents are good role models. Teens’ sleep habits are closely linked to those of their parents. If you’re getting only about 6 hours of sleep a night (like 50% of parents of kids under 18), consider trying to get a bit more – for your health and that of your child!

This article was previously published in a shorter form by Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools blog.

More references for parents

My Doctor Online:

American Academy of Pediatrics:

National Sleep Foundation:

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