What Time Should Your Teen Go to Bed?

Sleep deprivation is a major problem among teens.

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Gone are the days of putting your child to bed at 8 p.m. Now, you’re lucky if your teenager falls asleep before midnight!

As your child grows into his teen years, it’s natural for him to stay up later and later, as biological sleep patterns shift toward later sleeping and waking time during adolescence.

However, teens need between 8 and 10 hours of sleep per night for optimal function, but early school start times mean he’s probably not getting that shut-eye.

So take whatever time your teen needs to wake up in the morning, and subtract about nine hours. That hour may be your teen's optimal bedtime (give or take one hour). But there's a good chance that may seem ridiculously early to you.

That’s why many medical professionals and school administrators debate the pros and cons of starting school later. There’s evidence that says teens’ biological clocks make it difficult for them to wake up early.

If a teen needs to get up at 6:30 a.m. to make it to school on time, then he needs to hit the sack between 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Unfortunately, teens who need to wake up even earlier, are likely to have difficulty getting the recommended amount of sleep each night.

It’s not likely you’ll find your child crawling between the sheets as soon as the sun goes down, but you can encourage your teen to head to bed by 10 p.m. or so by promoting good sleep habits.

Why Do Teens Need Sleep?

Obviously, everyone needs a good amount of sleep per night, but the teen years are an important time to be getting that rest. Your teenager might think he’s practically an adult, but his brain isn’t fully developed yet.

Because of that, he’s more likely to make risky decisions—and that’s compounded when he’s sleep-deprived. On top of that, teens who don’t get enough sleep are at risk of depression and mood swings, as well as overeating and making poor food choices.

Should I Give My Teen a Bedtime?

Sometimes parents wonder, is it appropriate to give a teenager a definitive bedtime? While your 13-year-old may need more help going to sleep at an appropriate hour, a 17-year-old shouldn’t need as many reminders about how to take care of himself.

Rather than give an older teen a strict bedtime, educate your teen on how much sleep his growing body needs. Then, have a discussion about how he plans to get enough sleep, given the likely early hour he needs to wake up for school.

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

Keep the focus on encouraging a healthy bedtime, rather than strictly enforcing it. For some teens, the natural consequence of being overtired is enough to remind them to go to bed earlier.

For teens who still aren’t motivated to go sleep at a reasonable hour, establish rules that will motivate him to go to sleep at an earlier time. For example, tell your teen he can’t drive the car unless you’re assured he’s had plenty of sleep the previous night, since driving while tired is one of the biggest causes of teen driver fatalities.

How to Encourage Your Teen to Go to Sleep

When you’re climbing into bed at 9 p.m., it’s hard to monitor your teen’s bedtime habits. Use these parenting strategies to encourage a healthy bedtime:

  • Confiscate all electronic devices. At 9 p.m. each night, collect smartphones, tablets and other devices and 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 communicating 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. Instead of serving soda or other caffeinated drinks, encourage your teen to drink only milk or water for dinner. Even sipping on caffeinated 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 she needs caffeine to get through the day, then she probably needs more sleep overall.
  • Create a sleep-friendly environment. A bedroom should be dark and cool. Set a small light on the bed in case your teen likes to read before bed. 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 his sleep schedule somewhat on track.
  • Make a bedtime recommendation. Make sure your teen knows that you expect her to be in bed by 9:30 p.m. with the lights out by 10:00 (or whatever times will allow her to get the recommended sleep). While it might be impossible to enforce the lights out time if you’re already in bed yourself, telling your teen your expectation can encourage her to go to sleep.
  • Be a good role model. If you always fall asleep on the couch while watching TV or 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 adequate sleep by going to bed at a reasonable time.

While you might not be able to control your teen’s sleep habits once she moves on to college, it’s important to set a good foundation during the teenage years. Overall, with better sleep, your teen will perform better academically and athletically and, overall, be a much happier person. 

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