How Much Sleep does a Teenager Need?

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The Serta Sheep
This post stems from my work as a Serta Blogger Ambassador, but the struggles are my own. It's hard to make sure our high schooler gets enough sleep. Between swim practices that require him to be in the pool at 6 AM two school days each week and his tendency to stay up later than he should, combined with the fact that he's still growing and often appears tired, I fear we're fighting a losing battle. And yet, we can't give up.

The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9.25 hours of sleep each night for teens, noting that some can get by with about 8.5 (I don't think he's one of them). So if he gets up around 5 AM for swim practice, he should be in bed at 8 PM? That is so not going to happen. What's a parent to do?

We make sure the computer is put away by 9:45 or so and his cell phone gets hooked up to the charger in my bedroom by ten. I know. By teen standards, this is cruel and unusual punishment, but screen time before bedtime is bad for a body. Last year at 8th grade parent night one of the teachers implored parents to take cell phones away from their kids each night. "Nothing good or productive happens with teens between 10 and 6 AM," she advised. Amen.

A good mattress is important, too. Thanks to my involvement as a Serta Ambassador, he got a new mattress earlier this year, a Serta Perfect Sleeper. Sitting atop a captain's bed frame, the mattress is so luxuriously thick, I can barely climb up there without a step stool. The new mattress has helped him sleep better. When we moved into our house earlier this year he was sleeping on what was supposed to be a temporary mattress that my parents bought when we moved in with them. Who knew we'd be living there an unthinkable three years?

Serta Perfect Sleeper
You can get a kid a great mattress, but you can't make him sleep.

So we've got a few things going for us: no computer or phone, and a cushy, but supportive, mattress. Yeah us! But we still have the issue of old-skool books and late night reading. You can bring a horse to the water, but you can't make him drink. And, honestly, books aren't the only things we're fighting. We're fighting biology itself. During the teen years, their biological clocks shift. Mother Nature wants them up until 11:00 PM or so, sleeping until about 8 AM. The Swim Coach wants them sleeping until 5 in the morning. And even when that's not an issue, normal morning bus pick-up is at 7:25.

So what's a teen to do? On more than one occasion, my son has come home from after-school activities exhausted and fallen asleep only to wake up after midnight* for dinner and homework, getting back to bed around 3 AM to catch a few more zzzs before waking up for school. And, of course, like teens everywhere, he sleeps in on the weekends.

But irregular sleep habits are a band-aid, not a cure for the restoration growing bodies need. Hormone release and other important bodily maintenance tends to run on a regular schedule, so it's best to keep our bodies on schedule, too. Still, I'll choose a midnight dinner over complete sleep deprivation.

What happens when my kids don't get enough sleep.
The National Sleep Foundation has quite a bit of information about teens, sleep and school schedules. Interestingly, it's been about 20 years since the first cries toward aligning high school start times with the biological needs of adolescents, but it seems to me there's been very little movement on this. Our local high schools have been mulling over a calendar change, but there hasn't been any talk about changing start times, something that might do more to improve grades and test scores than starting the school year two weeks earlier.

I hear parents talking about their kids staying up until midnight--or later--doing homework on school nights (after school events like theater, sports or even math competitions mean they don't get home around 9:00 and they still need to eat and hit the books) and I don't know how they do it. By they, I don't just mean the kids, but the parents who have to cope with their zombied out teens.

Any tips?

*I've always hard a hard time waking up my kids. They sleep because their body needs it, right?

I'm a Serta blog ambassador and received mattresses and other compensation through my involvement in this program. All opinions are my own. Check out these tips for a good night's sleep from my friends and a few from Serta. See my Serta iComfort Motion Perfect mattress system in action.
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