How Much Sleep Does a Teenager Need?

Teenagers are notorious for staying up late, sleeping in, sporting PJs and bedhead at noon. But now that school's in full swing, it's essential that teens get enough sleep -- and a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests that's not happening by a long shot. In its report, the AAP emphasized that insufficient sleep isn't just a quirk of teenagerdom, but "an important public health issue" that significantly affects kids' well being, safety, and academic success. The situation is so dire, the AAP recommended that schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later to better sync with teens' sleep schedules so they can get a bit more precious shut-eye.

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This sleep deficit among teenagers may in part be caused by the fact that many parents don't even know how much sleep a teenager needs -- and authorities are divided on this issue as well.

The AAP report, for instance, recommends 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Meanwhile, "the John Hopkins Bloomberg Center for Adolescent Health says teenagers need more sleep than they did as children, the optimum being 10 or more hours," Jeanette Raymond, PhD, a psychologist in Los Angeles.

While sleep needs may vary from teen to teen, what is clear is that insufficient shut-eye can lead to a range of problems. "Some side effects include a limited ability to learn, listen, concentrate, and solve problems; acne and other skin problems; and eating unhealthy foods like sweets that lead to weight gain," says Dr. Susan Kuczmarski, EdD, author of The Sacred Flight of the Teenager: A Parent’s Guide to Stepping Back and Letting Go. 

Lack of sleep can even lead to lower grades. "Researchers have shown a significant GPA correlation between students described as 'long sleepers' -- more than nine hours per night -- and 'short sleepers' -- less than six hours per night," says Skylar Anderson, seminar director for StudyRight.net. Sleepy teens are also at risk for depression: In one study in the journal Sleep, teens with five hours or fewer had a 71 percent higher chance of developing depression a year later.

Getting a teen to sleep more, of course, is easier said than done, particularly for working parents who don't get much quality time with their kids. "Parents want to make sure they still have time to be together as a family," says sleep specialist Hannah Chow-Johnson, MD, a professor at the Loyola Center for Health. "To find that time it’s often sleep hours that get cut." Still, parents should remain firm about bedtime.

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"Create a simple sleep routine and stick to it," advises Chow-Johnson. "Long elaborate bedtime routines should be avoided." Consider banning all stimulating activity an hour before bedtime: Turn off the TV, take away the cellphone, and shut down video games and computers, and absolutely no TVs, video games, or cellphones in the bedroom. Kids should avoid use of caffeine and other substances that can affect sleep (hello, Red Bull).

Be on the lookout for signs of sleep deprivation, like difficulty waking in the morning, irritability later in the day, and sleeping super-long on weekends, says Kuczmarski. These symptoms are clear clarion calls for stricter sleep schedules, so if your teenager is rolling out of bed at noon every Saturday, it's high time to examine those sleep schedules before your child suffers the consequences.

How many hours of sleep does your teen get?



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