70% of High Schoolers Aren’t Getting Enough Sleep

According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, teens should sleep 8–10 hours a night. But studies have shown that 7 out of 10 high school students are falling short of this recommendation on school nights. Why, and what can parents do about it? We asked Caroline Okorie, MD, a pediatric sleep medicine specialist at Stanford Children’s Health.

Q: Why is it important that teens get enough sleep?

Poor sleep can limit teens’ ability to focus and learn. Additionally, insufficient sleep is associated with increased risk for chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and poor mental health.  

Q: Why is it harder for teens to fall asleep?

A: Teens have the unique challenge of a biological shift in their circadian clock, causing them to struggle to fall asleep before 11 pm.  Many teens will stay up late but still have to wake up early the next morning for school. It’s often during the weekend that they try to “catch up” by sleeping later and longer, which makes it even harder to return to an early morning wake time the following Monday.  

Plus, even if teens wanted to go to sleep earlier, they often feel like they can’t because they are working on homework. A study by the Better Sleep Council found that homework has the most significant effect on teens’ stress levels and sleep. Many report 15+ hours of homework a week.  

Q: What about the role of technology on teen sleep habits?

A: I’ve seen many teenage patients who wake up every few hours to check their texts and social media feeds. Obviously, this is not conducive to a good night’s sleep.  Staring at a screen right before bed can also make it harder to fall asleep.  The light emanating from the screen can signal your brain to stay awake, rather than get ready for sleep.

Q: What can parents do?

A: Consider taking your teens’ tech devices and putting them in a separate room at night so they won’t be tempted to check them. Or have your teens turn their devices off completely at night and use a regular clock as a morning alarm clock instead. Try to stick to the same sleeping and waking schedule every day of the week. Plan fun family activities for weekend mornings that entice kids out of bed. If problems persist, consider seeing a sleep specialist.

Q: What are the benefits of seeing a sleep specialist?

A: A sleep doctor can help teenagers and their families navigate these issues to promote good sleep health. A sleep specialist can also recommend effective ways to shift a teenager’s circadian clock to better suit his or her school schedule and offer ways to optimize the sleep environment. Undiagnosed and untreated sleep disorders may thwart even the best efforts to encourage healthy sleep, so it is important to screen for primary sleep disorders such as sleep apnea, narcolepsy, insomnia or restless legs syndrome.   

To make an appointment with Dr. Okorie or another sleep specialist at Stanford Children’s Health, call (844) 724-4140.

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