Should Your Teen Have a Set Bedtime?

Parents of teenagers know that the days of putting your child to bed at 8 p.m. are long gone. Now, you’re lucky if your teenager falls asleep before midnight. As children grow into their teen years, it’s natural for them to stay up later and later.

Their biological sleep patterns shift toward later sleeping and waking time during adolescence. At the same time, with busy lifestyles and plenty of activities, there's a good chance your teen is not getting the proper rest.

This article looks at ways that parents can help teens get the right amount of sleep, keeping them healthier today while instilling good sleep habits that may last across a lifetime.

A teenager asleep and wrapped in a blanket
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One reason that teens often don't get the optimal eight to 10 hours of sleep is because of early school start times. These start times seem absurd to many people, and medical professionals and school administrators debate the pros and cons of starting school later.

At home, you can try to solve the problem by first knowing the time your teen needs to wake up in the morning to get to school or an early sports practice. Then subtract about nine hours, give or take an hour, and you'll know what would be your teen's ideal bedtime.

It may not seem realistic, and you probably won't find your child headed off to bed as soon as the sun goes down. But you can set a bedtime of 10 p.m. or so, and help by teaching your teen good sleep habits.

The Importance of Sleep for Teens

Everyone needs a good amount of sleep each night, but the teen years are an especially important time to be getting that rest.

Your teenager might think they are almost an adult, but their brain isn’t fully developed yet. Because of that, they may be more likely to take risks and make poor decisions. That’s made worse by not getting enough sleep.

On top of that, sleep-deprived teens are at risk of depression and mood swings. They also are at risk of overeating, and making poor diet and nutrition choices overall.

Should I Give My Teen a Bedtime?

Many parents wonder if it is still appropriate to give a teenager a definitive bedtime, much as you did when they were younger. The answer depends on your teen and your own situation. A 13-year-old may need more help going to sleep at an appropriate hour, and parents can help. A 17-year-old shouldn’t need as many reminders about good sleep habits.

Rather than give an older teen a strict bedtime, it's better to educate your teen. Let them know how much sleep their growing body needs. Talk with them about how they plan to get enough sleep, given the demands of their schedule and the early hour needed to wake up for school. Keep the focus on encouraging a healthy bedtime hour, rather than strictly enforcing it.

Make sure your teen knows that being too tired isn’t a badge of honor. Students often seem to pride themselves on staying up all night to study for exams or to play video games with their friends. They may brag about getting only five hours of sleep and seem to think depriving their bodies of rest is a sign of strength.

For teens who still aren’t motivated to go to sleep at a reasonable hour, establish some rules. For example, you can tell your teen they can’t drive the car unless you’re sure they had plenty of sleep the night before. Explain that driving while tired is a common cause of teen car crashes.

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of teen death in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that every day seven teens between the ages of 16 and 19 die from motor vehicle injuries and even more are treated in emergency rooms for serious injuries.

Encouraging a Teen To Go To Sleep

There are other rules you can make and steps you can take to help your teen get enough rest. Some or all of these parenting tips and strategies may help to encourage healthy sleep patterns.

Confiscate All Electronic Devices

At 9 p.m. each night, collect smartphones, tablets, and other devices. Keep them in a basket in a common area of the house (or if your teen is prone to sneaking it back, in your bedroom).

Too often, teens stay up late connecting with friends or browsing the Internet, and the light from the screens interferes with their quality of sleep. Do yourself a favor and toss your phone in that basket, too.

Discourage Caffeine Use

Instead of serving soda or other caffeinated drinks, have your teen try to drink only milk or water for dinner. Even sipping on sports or energy drinks after school can affect a teen’s sleep.

Keep energy drinks and caffeinated sodas out of the house, and discourage your teen from drinking coffee. If they need caffeine to get through the day, then they probably need more sleep overall.

Create a Sleep-Friendly Environment

A bedroom should be dark and cool. Set a small light by the bed in case your teen likes to read before sleep. The mattress and pillow should be comfortable. Take TVs out of bedrooms—this room should be for sleep only.

Prevent Sleeping in on the Weekends

By nature, teens are more likely to make up for lost sleep on the weekend and doze until noon or later. However, this affects their overall sleep patterns. Instead, get your teen up at a reasonable hour to keep the sleep schedule somewhat on track.

Make a Set Bedtime

Make sure your teen knows that you expect them to be in bed by 9:30 p.m. with the lights out by 10:00, or whatever times allow for the right amount of sleep. It may be impossible to enforce, especially if you’re already in bed yourself, but being consistent in telling your teen the expectation can help them to meet it.

Be a Good Role Model

Your teen may not be the only one who's not getting enough rest. If you always fall asleep on the couch while watching TV in the evening, or if you struggle to wake up in the morning, your teen is likely to follow suit. Show your teen that you think it's important to get the right amount of sleep by going to bed at a reasonable time.

Summary

Many teens aren't getting enough sleep, and that may come as no surprise to adults who never get enough sleep either. But the teen years are an important time to cultivate good sleep habits. It's one of the reasons for parents to set a good example now, and to teach teens the techniques they'll need to know across a lifetime in order be sure they're well-rested.

Setting a bedtime is one strategy. Teens may balk at the idea at first, so it's better to explain what the right amount of sleep is and why they need it. Encourage your teen to plan for proper sleep by heading to bed early, avoiding social media and other disruptions, and keeping their sleep schedule consistent.

A Word From Verywell

Overall, with better sleep, your teen will be a healthier and happier person, and may perform better in class and at sports. Keep in mind that you won't always be there to keep an eye on your teen’s sleep habits once they move on to college and into their own lives. That's why it's so important to set a good foundation during the teen years.

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